Exemplary Prayers – II

In our last  post we said any address to Jesus in the Gospels can be read as a prayer to God. Sometimes that will seem outrageous. For consider the question of Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11) By this time, Jesus has had a night of abuse. He has been deserted by his disciples, condemned by false witnesses in a kangaroo court, slapped around, and bound over to the governor for judgment.

Pilate is traditionally treated as one of the greatest villains of history. Therefore, it may be offensive to speak of anything he says as a prayer. Still, which of us has not asked this question in one form or another? How can this man from a no-count backwater, with no following but a rabble of limping crazies, be a king? Even if he is a king in that desert, so what? Even if he is a very great king: say, king of England, or of wherever, so what? There have been kings all through history who have been able to refrain from theological claims about themselves. Those who could not,like  the late emperors of Rome, we simply call megalomaniacs, and let it go.

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A Reading of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew can be read as the Evangelist’s effort make a fractious community cohere. Among other rifts he faces is one between apocalyptic and eschatological thinkers. (This would be hard to explain, because, partly because Matthew was successful, we think of the two things as one.) Between the lines, we can also read the concerns of more factions: the narrative of John the Baptist is tied in respectfully; another of Peter, another of James, another of the women; perhaps another of ethnic Canaanite Christians who had never been Jews.

As he goes, Matthew modulates his tone carefully. Near the beginning we have the Jesus who pronounces the beatitudes. Beyond that, Jesus is sweet-tempered, and every needy person he meets adores him. Is there any whiney, manipulative suppliant with a sense of entitlement to healing?. How about the man at the pool who complains that everybody else gets to the water before he does? Jesus heals him; then, seeing him later, warns him to make the prescribed thank offering lest something worse happen to him. The fellow had proved to be a flake when it came to basic observances.

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