Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Matthew 28:16-20

This passage occurs both in the Narrative Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary (Trinity Sunday).

Summary:
Well, this passage clarifies a few things:
* Jesus did have to suffer
* The law still exists in the new creation
* Commissioning is just as important as proclamation
* Baptizing is subordinate to making disciples; yet Baptism binds us to God
* The resurrection changes God's name
While we are at it, let's also clarify two other things
* The Trinity was in Matthew's Gospel
* Some, not all, doubted

Okay, I will be less pugnacious, but Matthew brilliantly closes out of his Gospel.  Only five verses, but it really does tie together so much of Matthew's writing.
Key Words

ορος ("mountain", 28:16)   Mountains show up at many key points in the Gospel of Matthew:  The sermon on the Mount, the tranfiguration and the betrayal of Jesus.  Matthew may be connecting some of the "dots" within his story here.  I wrote about this in my comments on Matthew 5 as well.

εταξατο ("command" from τασσω, 28:16)  Even after the resurrection, the concept of obedience still exists.  I write this because recently I've been engaged in some discussions with "hyper" Lutherans who want to functionally deny the role of the law within the new creation.  The law still exists; the new creation does the law.  But okay, let's avoid this discussion and actually get to something that we can preach:  Living as a disciple means obeying, even as we doubt.  (See below for more on law and Gospel post resurrection)

προσεκυνησαν ("worship", from προσκυνεω, 28:17) and εξουσια ("authority" or "power", 28:18). The President of Luther Seminary once gave a great sermon linking this passage (Matthew 28:16-20) with the temptation of Christ.  It will be on a mountain that the devil offers Jesus all authority if Jesus would worship him.  Poetically, here it is on a mountain that the disciples worship him as the hear that Jesus has all the authority.  The point of the sermon (by Dr. Richard Bliese) was that devil tried to convince Jesus that suffering wasn't necessary for his authority and glory, but Jesus would have none of it.

εδιστασαν ("doubt", from δισταζω 17)  Back in chapter 14, Jesus rescues a sinking Peter and asks him why he doubted.  Here we are, after the crucifixion and resurrection, and doubt still lingers.  Interestingly, Jesus does not rebuke them for their faith (or even false worship) but simply puts them to use and offers them the promise of his presence.  What is Jesus response to failure on the part of the disciples?  Commissioning and promise.  I would argue that in both John 22 and Matthew 28, Jesus not only hands over the promise but also employs people.  This to me suggests that law can function as Gospel when it lets us know that Jesus cares about us.  In other words, when someone tells us to quit smoking, we can hear this as law but also as love in that the person cares about us.  The failure of church to commission people is a failure to communicate God's love for them.  Ultimately I would argue that it is the promise of Jesus' presence that will give them the strength to carry out this command!

μαθητευσατε and βαπτιζοντες ("teach" and "baptize", 19)  Interestingly, the only imperative verb in verse 19 is "make disciples."  The rest are participles that likely describe the verb "teach."  [Grammatically you can argue that "go," although not an imperative, functions like this because of its position.]  In the Greek, baptizing and teaching are not imperatives, they are participles that describe the manner of making disciples.  This is true in the parish too; we make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them.  One should not press too hard here because even if "baptize" only modifies "make disciples" it is still commanded to us by Jesus!  However, it reminds us that Baptism without teaching is not what Jesus commanded. 

I would also add that the purpose of our teaching is making disciples...Do we look at Christian Education as formation??

Side note on the verbs here:  The main verb (μαθητευσατε ) is in the plural (second person).  No one of us is commanded to make disciples.  It always take the community to accomplish this task.

εις το ονομα ("into the name" 19)  Two points here.  First off all, there is only the most scant evidence that Matthew's Gospel did not originally have the Trinitarian name.  All the major manuscripts have it.  In fact, each and every manuscripts has it.  The main evidence against it consists of one or two Greek Fathers who don't include it when they cite Matthew, most importantly Eusebius.  However, Eusebius wrote around 300; the Didache (110 AD), which heavily quotes from Matthew's Gospel includes the name Father, Son and Holy Spirit within its Baptismal formula. (The Didache also use the word "into" and not "in" reflecting Matthew's language)

Second point, we are baptized into the name of God.  There is something that happens in Baptism that joins us to Christ.

μεθ υμων ("with you"; the word μεθ is μετα but the letters change before a vowel, much like "a" becomes "an", vs 20).  It is a good reminder that Jesus offers a plural promise here:  "With all of you."  More importantly though, the words "with you" appear in the middle of the words "I am."  "I am" or εγω ειμι can also signify the name of God (see one of the previous' weeks entries on this).  Here though we find the construction "I with you am."  In the middle of God's name is "with us."  I would argue that God's name has been changed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  God is forever bound to humanity in a way that God was not before (see tearing of temple curtain).  Even if the whole name of God thing seems like a stretch, Jesus is indicating that after the crucifixion and resurrection he is truly Emmanuel, or God with us, as the angel declared in the beginning of the Gospel. 

Grammar:  How Greek often switches subjects.
In verse 17, Matthew says that "some doubted."  He actually doesn't use the word "some," but the words οι δε.  These two words simply mean "The and."  How did the translators get to "some" from "the and"?

This particular construction (δε ("and") following the word οι/ο ("the")) almost always implies a new subject.  Often times Greek writers will do this; perhaps to save space because it is quicker to write "ο δε" then to write out "the other person I was just writing about."  This device, I assume, almost functioned like a period or a paragraph start; "attention reader, new subject."  For example, Matthew uses this construction back in verse 16 to switch the narrative from the Jews to the disciples. We have a paragraph marker there, but in the original Greek, which lacked punctuation, this didn't exist. 

In verse 17, the question becomes, who is Matthew referring to when he switches the subject? We are not told of anyone on the hill.  It seems the only option is to assume Matthew here switches from all eleven disciples to a smaller group within that.  While a minority think he means all the disciples (and thus is NOT switching subjects), most people assume he is referring to a subset within the disciples.  Regardless at least some of the people on that hill are doubting...and Luke tells in Acts they all keep moving forward with the team!

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