Isaiah 28-30; Matthew 19-20

Isaiah 28: The Lord is a refuge and protection. Isaiah condemns the leaders of Ephraim and Judah for their drunkard actions and lack of trust in God. They have instead put their faith into others for their protection. According to Isaiah, God specifically says “One who trusts will not panic” (p. 1004 NRSV).

Isaiah 29: The siege and deliverance of Jerusalem. The beginning focuses on a siege of Jerusalem. It seems that this is all because people didn’t follow and trust in God. I guess. I think I’m losing my patience with this book. Need to switch to Matthew. I’ve included a sidebar from the Access Bible (p. 966):

Isaiah 30: In quietness and trust shall be your strength. God, through Isaiah, tells the people that relying on Egypt for protection is worthless and will pretty much be their downfall. He will help their enemies because they chose not to follow him.

Matthew 19: There are several different messages in this chapter. First, Jesus talks about divorce. This happens because he is tested by the Pharisees. They ask him if divorce is ok and he refers to what God said in the beginning about man and woman and how they are one. The Pharisees fire back, asking why Moses commanded them to allow divorce. Jesus says this: “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. ⁹ And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery” (p. 1774). Dang…if this is literally true, then there are millions of people who have committed adultery throughout history.

Next Jesus blesses children to heal them. This is followed by the story of the rich man who wants to know what he has to do to reach heaven. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments. The man says he has done this. And then we read this: “Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” ²² When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (p. 1775).

Jesus then follows this up with the following conversation with his disciples:

²³ Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. ²⁴ Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” ²⁵ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” ²⁶ But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” ²⁷ Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” ²⁸ Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. ²⁹ And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold,a and will inherit eternal life. ³⁰ But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

A few things here. First, it’s interesting that Jesus specifically says that it will be hard for rich people to enter heaven. Wealth is something that is promoted in our country. Well, monetary wealth. Wealth can mean many things. I believe I’m wealthy because of my amazing wife and children. I have an incredible job and really good life. However, I don’t have monetary wealth compared to the upper echelon of our society. I admit that I’m “wealthier” than a large percentage of our country. Now, I do wish I had more, but that’s because I’m selfish. I was in Zurich the last few days to see about collaborating with PH Zurich. While there I walked around the town quite a bit and saw many amazing historical things. I also saw a lot of things that I wanted to get my family (and myself). Yet, I couldn’t afford it. That is more of a reflection on me because I believed that I needed those things (in truth I don’t at all). It does seem that there is a fairly large group of people in the US who believe that being wealthy is all it takes to be good. Based on this tidbit from the notes in the CEB study bible, they aren’t the only ones: “…the disciples share the widely held view that great wealth is a sign of great blessing from God” (p. 42 NT).

Second, the notion of leaving EVERYTHING still doesn’t sit well with me. Did the message that Jesus apparently shared with his followers mean that they had to literally leave their wife and children to follow him? OR, is this supposed to be interpreted another way? If so, how? How is this supposed to be interpreted? Because I sure don’t know.

Matthew 20: The previous chapter ended with the following verse: “But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first” (19.30). I have to put that here because since I read chapter 19 yesterday I was completely lost with the start of chapter 20 today.

The first part of this chapter tells a story about workers in a vineyard. The ones who were hired at the beginning of the day got the same pay as the ones who were hired at the very end of the day. This bothered the guys from the beginning. I would’ve been upset too. However, the owner of the vineyard pointed out to them that he said he would pay them 1 denarion. So even though this was unfair in the eyes of those who worked the full day, they were given what they were told they would be given. Jesus uses this to reiterate his point that “So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last” (20.16).

Honestly, I think I need a further explanation on that one. Gotta ask someone about it.

Next Jesus predicts his death and resurrection for the third time. In this part he uses the word ‘gentiles’ again in what I think is meant to be a derogatory way: “They will hand him over to the Gentiles to be ridiculed, tortured, and crucified. But he will be raised on the third day” (20.19). It really is interesting how the author’s bias emerges throughout this book.

I don’t really see the significance of the next part where James and John’s mother asks Jesus if her two sons could sit on either side of him. The other 10 disciples get upset about this because of what this means. Seen this way implies a different order of importance, almost like a pecking order. This is evident in many paintings and pictures throughout history. It’s even present  in the different bibles I saw while in Stuttgart (see here). Jesus again refers to the Gentiles here.

Finally, this chapter ends with Jesus healing two blind men who immediately get up and follow him. The notes reference two verses in Isaiah 35.5-6:

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf will be cleared.
Then the lame will leap like the deer,
   and the tongue of the speechless will sing.

Interesting foretelling there. Need to come back to this when I read chapter 35 very soon.

UPDATE: I sent the following email to Father Greg asking for his guidance on verses in this chapter and chapter 19:

I finally started reading the Bible again and I am curious about a verse in Matthew that comes up a few times (19:30; 20:16). Jesus says “But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.” Another variation, I think, is 20:26-27: “Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave.”

I’m at a loss on this. Looking at the full passages makes me think this has something to do with equality. But then looking at verses 26-27 makes me think that those who are humble will be great. Please help.

Here was his response:

Two things:
First, Jesus is here to set the social order in its ear.
Second, we’re called to serve, not be served. And; even when in an exalted position, Jesus’s followers search for ways to turn this into service of God, and of others. “Public Service” should be this way, nowadays it’s much more “self service” and “self preservation”.

This helps some. I especially like what he said about public service and what Jesus advocated for versus what the narrative is today. I admit that I fall into this trap. It also reminds me of the Friends episode where Phoebe tries to convince Joey that selfless good deeds do exist (episode 101).


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