Talented… or Talents? – Comments on Matthew 25:14-30

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells a parable about a man who embarks on a journey. But before he leaves, he entrusts his possessions with three slaves that stay behind. Many readers may be unaware… but there a problematic translational switch-a-roo that happens in Matthew 25:15. It concerns the possessions the man entrusts to the slaves… the talents.

“To one he gave five talents, to another , two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” – NASB (’95 update)

It turns out, the word “talents” is an unfortunate translation. Well actually, it’s not a translation at all… it’s a transliteration. What’s the difference? Translation conveys the meaning of words from one language to another, where transliteration simply conveys the sound of words between languages.

How does that play out in this passage? There is a Greek word “talanton” that’s an ancient Greek unit of weight and, at the same time, a measure of monetary value. It’s kinda like the British “pound”. On one hand, a unit of weight, but also has a specific monetary value in that society. Continue reading

Can You Repeat the Question? – Comments on Matthew 24:1-4

Have you ever been wading in a river, or a lake, and one moment you are doing just fine, walking along and able to touch bottom. Then, for whatever reason, the next step takes you into a deep underwater hole. One step earlier you felt like you were some sort of “Aqua Superhero”… and the next you feel like you might drown. 

Theologically, that’s what some people experience when they step into Matthew 24. You might feel pretty confident of your footing in the chapters leading up to this one… then all of a sudden you are treading in deep theological waters and feel like you are about to go under.

Why do I say that? 

There are so many ways people read Matthew 24. This is the type of passage that inspires charts… and diagrams… and long extended analogies to explain. So many charts… and at least potentially (from this chapter)… so little time. 

The chapter begins with a comment about nice buildings… and then a promise of destruction of those buildings.

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

Then the real question… the one where the theology suddenly get deep. What exactly do the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 24:3? Continue reading

Jesus’ Last Discourse? – Comments on Matthew 23:13-36

Throughout his gospel, Matthew organizes large segments of Jesus’ teaching into five major discourses. That just means there are a whole bunch of red letters… all scrunched together… in five different places.

The author does this on purpose… because he wants us to think of Jesus in terms of the Old Testament character, Moses. Moses was that person who lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and on towards the land that had been promised to their family. Moses wrote 5 major discourses (the first five books of the Old Testament). To help connect Jesus as “the new Moses”, Matthew presents Jesus’ teaching in five distinct settings.

Today, it’s the last discourse I’m interested in… and where it might begin. Those familiar with the Bible at all have probably heard of “The Olivet Discourse”. It’s found in Matthew 24:3-26:1 and is named after the location Jesus was when He taught it. He was on the “Mount of Olives” in Jerusalem.

We know the discourse ends in Matthew 26:1 because the Matthew includes a clue for the reader that signifies the end (“When Jesus had finished all these words…”). But there is no equivalent marker used for the beginning of the discourse. Continue reading

There’s a Question I Wish to Discuss… Comments on Matthew 22:15-22

Matthew 22 features a set of three questions that the religious leaders bring to Jesus in an attempt to trap him and end his ministry. Jesus answers each question brilliantly… which only serves to further frustrate His questioners.

In Matthew 22:15-22, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay the poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” This seems like a political question… but it certainly has religious undertones.  

This reminds me of a role I played in a high-school production of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. Those familiar with that story know that the main character has several daughters. The story largely focuses on the daughters falling in love and getting married. I played Perchik, a religious and political radical that fell in love with one of the daughters. When it came time for my character to propose marriage I said, 

“There’s a question I wish to discuss with you. It’s a political question, the question of marriage.” She responded, “Is this a political question?”

 It was a fair question. I went on to explain that the relationship between a man and a woman has a socioeconomic base that must be founded on mutual beliefs, a common attitude, and philosophy towards society.”

What a romantic! The world certainly doesn’t need more poets like this character. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Temples… Comments on Matthew 21:12-22

Jesus’ ministry has been described in terms of a comparison of two temples. One temple, a physical building in Jerusalem, was supposed to be a visible example of God’s purity and forgiveness. But at the time of Jesus’ ministry, that temple was not a clear picture of these attributes. In fact… it was exactly the opposite. People were visiting the temple and often leaving with a distorted picture of God and how He works.

In contrast to the Jerusalem temple, Jesus was a clearer example of God’s purity… and His forgiveness. Jesus’ ministry began a transition away from the temple in Jerusalem… to a new temple. The temple of Jesus and those connected to Him through faith. It is a temple of believers.

It was this new temple that Jesus came to inaugurate… and that old temple, the one in Jerusalem, that he put on notice that its time was done. 

This factors greatly into Matthew 21:12-22. In those verses Jesus makes his way to the temple in Jerusalem and drives out those who were buying and selling. The forgiveness of God had become a profit making business, but forgiveness from God is available to everyone. It’s not a money making transaction. 

No matter who you are… no matter how much money you have… God’s forgiveness is available to you. That picture wasn’t being truly represented in the temple in Jerusalem. Sometimes I think we forget that simple truth.

The cleaning of the Jerusalem temple is followed by this strange and cryptic “cursing of a fig tree”. There’s a fig tree… it has leaves on it… but no fruit. Jesus says, “no longer shall there ever be any fruit from you” and at once the fig tree withers and dies. Without a broader context… this certainly seems like a strange event to include in the narrative of Jesus’ week leading up to the cross.  Continue reading

Unfortunate Chapter Breaks… Comments on Matthew 20:1-16

The chapter and verse numbers weren’t included in the first manuscripts of the Bible. They were added to the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament texts in the 16th-century by a man named Robert Stephanus (his son, Henri, is famous for introducing the pagination numbers still used today in many of Plato’s writings).

While Robert’s Stephanus’ work has long been the gold standard for quickly finding Bible references according to “chapter and verse”… some of his organizational decisions are not as helpful for studying the Bible as a piece of literature. Matthew chapter 20 is one such “unfortunate chapter break”.

Matthew chapter 20 begins with the word “for”. Grammatically, that word suggests that the statement that follows somehow relates with information that came before. It organically ties back to the statement in the last verse of chapter 19.  Continue reading

Grieving #10… Comments on Matthew 19:16-22

In Matthew 19:16 a man came to Jesus asking a question. He said, “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 

There are several places in the New Testament where people ask a question similar to this. Surprisingly, the answers vary greatly (see John 6:25-29, Luke 3:10-18, Luke 10:25-37, and Acts 16:30-31).  

In this particular case Jesus answered the man, “keep the commandments.” But that wasn’t as clear as it needed to be so the man asked another question, “Which ones?” The people that count such things have found 613 different commandments in the OT. So I think it was a good question.

To which commandments was Jesus referring? He started with a portion of the list of the 10 commandments found in Exodus 20:12-17 (and repeated in Deuteronomy 5). But surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t list all of the 10 commandments and the ones He does mention were strategically chosen. 

Let’s count along with him. (I’ve included each commandment’s number for your convenience.)  Continue reading

I Must Be in the Front Row! – Comments on Matthew 18:1-4

In Matthew 18:1, the disciples wonder about what kind of seats they would have in the heavenly kingdom. They asked Jesus for His thoughts by asking who is “greatest in the kingdom of heaven”.

To answer their question, Jesus called a child into their midst. Mark mentions in his gospel (Mark 9:36) that Jesus took the child “in his arms”, so I suspect it wasn’t a teenager! It was probably more like a toddler. 

Then, very subtly, Jesus changes the question. He doesn’t answer the disciple’s question about “who has the best seats”… but responds by telling them what’s required “to get into” the kingdom. Turns out the disciples had been assuming something that wasn’t the case. 

It kinda reminds me of that Bob Uecker beer commercial from the 80’s. In the commercial Bob, a former major league player who playfully refers to himself as “Mr. Baseball”, receives a free ticket from the management to see his former team play a game. He assumes, “I must be in the front row!”  But the seating attendant escorts him, instead, to one of the last rows of the upper deck (in case you weren’t paying attention to beer commercials in the 80’s, I’ve included a link HERE for your viewing pleasure).

Poor Bob Uecker… and poor disciples too! They were both assuming something that wasn’t the case.  Continue reading

Unveiling the Transfiguration… Comments on Matthew 17:1-13

In Matthew 17:1-13, Jesus takes three of His disciples (Peter, James and John) up on a mountain. During their time there, Moses and Elijah appear and Jesus is “transfigured” before them.

When something is “transfigured” it goes through a change that makes it more beautiful. Transfiguration creates a new outward appearance.

In Matthew 17:2, Matthew tells us Jesus was transfigured, and suggests Jesus’ appearance completely changed. The description makes it seem like His outward flesh went away and the divine person beneath was allowed to shine forth. It says Jesus’ face shone like the sun. His clothes became like light.

The Greek lemma behind this transformation is a word that’s pronounced “metamorephoo”. That should sound familiar to English speakers. We describe the change a caterpillar undergoes to become a butterfly as metamorphosis. Interestingly, the same Greek lemma is also used to describe the transformation a believer experiences through faith in Christ. Continue reading

What’s the Word on the Street? – Comments on Matthew 16:13-17

In Matthew 16:13, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Anytime the author (Matthew) records Jesus asking a question, he is expecting you, as a reader, to answer the question. It’s a question that, eventually, everyone must answer.

But did you notice how Jesus phrased the question? He didn’t say, “Who do people say that Jesus of Nazareth is?” He inserts the title “Son of Man” in place of his name. The title “Son of Man” has a very specific context in the Old Testament book of Daniel (chapter 7 verses 13-14). The “Son of Man” character in the book of Daniel is very God himself. 

Jesus is not asking, “Do people think I’m the Son of Man?” He is declaring that this is who He is. He had used the “Son of Man” title before (back in Matthew 9:6).

Here are the responses that the disciples mentioned they were hearing.

  1. People think you seem a lot like John the Baptist.
  2. You are doing things like some of the prophets in the OT… like Elijah… who helped a widow’s son in Sidon. (Jesus had traveled to Sidon and helped a widow’s daughter.) 
  3. You seem like, Jeremiah, who wept over Jerusalem and predicted that the city would be destroyed. (Jesus will weep over Jerusalem and also predict its destruction.)
  4. Or one of the other prophets… like Jonah. (Both Jonah and Jesus had been asleep in the bow of a boat in the midst of a storm… and both calmed the sea… although in very different ways). 

People were concluding that Jesus was an Old Testament person that had come back from the dead. But, the people on the street were failing to make one important connection.

Continue reading