Opposition through legalism 3: God’s chosen servant

God’s unlimited servant

Matthew 12:15–21

The conflicts of Jesus

40 Blogs of Lent: Day 19

14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
Matthew 12:15–21

a reed shaken by the wind
A bruised reed he will not break

The wrong kind of piety

Jesus was not pious enough.

A definition of pious from http://www.vocabulary.com:

pious. If someone is deeply religious and visibly follows all the moral and ethical codes of his religion, he is pious. Don’t become a priest if you’re not prepared to live a pious life. Pious comes from the Latin pius, which means dutiful.

The problem for the Pharisees was that Jesus did not follow all the moral and ethical codes of the religion that they taught. Healing a man on the Sabbath was proof to the Pharisees that Jesus was a heretic.

But Jesus was not running away, that so many followed him shows that he was not afraid. Jesus was withdrawing for a time. Later he would withdraw for a later time as shown in Matthew chapters 14–20. Jesus has something very deliberate in doing so. It is not for him the too and fro of intellectual debate.

Jesus was and is the Christ, the Messiah, the living embodiment of the Kingdom of God on earth, the Kingdom of God that is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, was here in Jesus, and Jesus was then and is now calling people to come and share in being part of that Kingdom. Healings were the sign that the Kingdom of God was and is here and that God cares.

Jesus did not want his healings to be known. Jesus could have used the publicity of his acts of power to gather ever larger and larger crowds until they were able to take him by force and proclaim him as king. Even despite Jesus telling those healed not to tell that still was on the point of happening.

John 6:15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

The wrong kind of king

The kind of king the people wanted was the wrong kind of king. To the people the kingship shown in Jesus was the wrong kind of king. Matthew’s Gospel was written with an audience of Jews who had become Christians. Yet again Matthew stresses the Gospel is for Gentiles. Non-Jews will put their hope in Jesus. The poetic section of the reading at the top of the page is quoting the prophet, (Isaiah 42:1-3.) Jesus is the sort of King in which God delights. He is a king for all (The Gentiles in Matthew’s citing of the text, the Nations in Isaiah), an unlimited king, not just the King of the Jews. God is not ethnocentric or racist.

Jesus was gentle. His gentleness is shown here in two ways:

  • A bruised reed: Reeds had many used but a reed that had been battered by the wind had gone soft and was no good for building or making musical instruments.
  • A smouldering wick: A wick that had burnt down so far that it could no longer soak up oil would just give off smoke and were often put out, yet they were still useful for kindling fires.

Jesus was gentle and would care for those who were so low in society they were thought of as useless. He had recently called the weary and heavy laden, now he is aiming at the very bottom rung of society.

It is not as if Jesus was himself weak, he would speak truth to power, take on the religious and political leadership of his time, he would stand up for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, giving a voice to those who have no voice. But whilst hitting upwards he never hit down. Jesus’ words of condemnation were all for the mighty and powerful of his time, he never condemned those at the bottom of the world’s ladder. Good News to the poor is literally that and needs no spiritualising away. Charities such as CAP (Christians Against Poverty) need our support.

The passage talks about justice. It is in caring for the lowest in our society where justice is to be found.

Jesus is a king whose reign is unlimited. It is not limited by the legalistic ways the Pharisees kept the law. It is not limited by the expectations of the people for a warrior-king. He is not a philosopher-king who will win arguments in the debating chamber. He is a king who shows compassion for the poor and weak, the migrant and asylum seeker. Every one of them is a human being made in God’s image waiting for a demonstration of God’s love.

The powerful hate this about him.


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