Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sheep without a Shepherd

There are two pet peeves of mine concerning reading. One of them is reading something -- a book, an article, the label on the back side of a tasty micro-brew -- with print that is underlined. The other pet peeve is to read something in all-caps (which, I'm told, is like adding emphasis for dummies). I think both styles of writing are obnoxious to read. But in the beginning of this post, and only in the beginning, I am going to operate on a double standard. I am going to peeve someone else by underlining two passages from Matthew's gospel. The reason why I am going to do this is because I don't want anyone to miss out on how exciting underlining can be! Just kidding. The reason why I am doing this is because there are two passages in Matthew's gospel which say the exact same thing, and as I move forward in displaying the literary structure of Matthew's gospel, the underlined information will become important to clearly identify two distinctive parts of the structure. But I PROMISE not to write in all caps. Okay, here we go. 

At the end of chapter nine of Matthew's gospel, we read:
   And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were being harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”    
   And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  The names of the twelve apostles are these:  first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;  Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;  Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 

There is an interesting pattern set before us by Matthew here in 9:35-10:4. First, Matthew mentions Jesus teaching the gospel of the Kingdom, and that is immediately followed by healing. Remember this pattern: first teaching, then healing. After Jesus teaches and heals, Matthew tells us that Jesus calls twelve disciples to follow him and help him teach and heal. 

Compare this order of events with Matthew 4:18-25, where we find the first mention of Jesus teaching and healing in Matthew's gospel: 

   While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called themImmediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
   And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.  So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.  And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. 

Notice carefully that the order of events which begins in chapter 4:18-25 is reversed in 9:35-10:4. At the end of chapter four, Jesus first calls a few disciples, then afterward he teaches and heals. At the end of chapter nine, Jesus teaches and heals, then afterward he calls disciples. Certainly this structure is not accidental. And amazingly, this is also the pattern we find between the end of chapters four and nine. After we are told that Jesus "went throughout all" the land in chapter four, we find Matthew filling up two very large chunks of his gospel with teaching and healing. First he ascends a Mountain to give Israel the Law (in chapters 5-7) to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom (i.e. the "Sermon on the Mount"), followed by ten miraculous narratives (in chapters 8-9). Notice the structure below:

A)  Jesus calls four disciples  (4:18-25)
   B)  Jesus teaches and then heals throughout all Israel  (4:23-25)
      C)  Teaching (Discourse):  Sermon on the Mount  (5:1-7:27)
         D) Jesus' authority is greater than the rulers of Israel  (7:28-29)
      C’)  Healing (Narrative): 10 miracles  (8:1-9:34)
   B’)  Jesus teaches and then heals throughout all Israel  (9:35-38)
A’)  Jesus calls twelve disciples  (10:1-4)

Notice carefully that the structure of two central sections describe Jesus teaching first (C), followed by Jesus healing (C'), just as Matthew notes at the end of chapters four (B) and nine (B'). Sandwiched between these two major chunks of teaching and healing is a statement about Jesus being greater than the rulers of Israel (D):
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their Scribes.
This remarkable record of Matthew is highlighting exactly what we've been seeing as the central problem throughout the beginning of Jesus' ministry. It even highlights why the people of Israel flock to Jesus. Israel is in a state of spiritual wandering and they know it. They know it because so much of what they have been taught about the gospel of God's Kingdom by the Scribes and Pharisees is wrong when compared with the authoritative teaching of Jesus. The Scribes teach with man-made authority -- authority that misleads, ensnares, and ultimately devours the people of God. While the people wander through the spiritual desert-land of Israel, the teaching of Jesus exposes the true nature of their rulers. What we see is that their own rulers act more like wolves and serpents than shepherds of sheep. Like serpents, they have a "wisdom" that is cunning (10:16), but their doctrines are venomous, wounding even the most harmless and innocent disciples; like wolves, they are hostile towards the truth of God's Shepherd, and so they harass and devour His sheep when he's not around. 

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his disciples that more leaders would arise among them "in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." And the only way to distinguish them among the flock would be "by their fruits" (7:15). But the good news of these passages is that Jesus has already come as the Good Shepherd of Israel. He has come to protect the flock of Israel from false prophets in this desert-land by tearing the sheepskin off wolves and crushing the heads of serpents. Jesus has come to Israel to bring healing to God's sheep by leading them out of the wilderness and into His promised Kingdom. He has come to show compassion upon the flock of Israel because they were "being harassed and helpless" (9:36) when left to themselves in the wilderness. When left to themselves, they were, as Matthew explicitly identifies, "sheep without a shepherd" (9:36). 

Interestingly, this description of Israel as "sheep without a shepherd" is exactly what Moses did not want the people to become while they were being led through the wilderness and into the promised land (Numbers 27:17). But Israel has nothing to fear because Jesus is leading them. Jesus is the greater Moses, leading Israel out of bondage, out of the wilderness too, and into the promised land of God's Kingdom. The Father has sent His Son, Jesus, to be the Shepherd of Israel and to lead them out of the parched desert land where predators lie in wait to devour His sheep. But instead of finding predators such as literal wolves and serpents, we find Scribes and Pharisees. Without Jesus, the people of Israel would remain exactly where Moses was afraid to leave them during his ministry, namely in a place of helplessness, harm, and potential death. But things are looking well for Israel because the Father has sent His Son into the world as the Good Shepherd, and as we see in Matthew's account, the people are "astonished" (7:28) because he comes with one who has authority, not as one of the Scribes (7:29). 

No comments:

Post a Comment