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20 July 2014
posted by Canon Dakin on 21-07-2014

Mathew is an editor. He arranges his material very carefully. He puts what Jesus taught into five long discourses. The third one, therefore the central one, the one in the middle, is the day of parables, parables of the kingdom. Jesus had a problem. The Jews were expecting a call to arms, a revolt against the Romans which would lead to a restoration of the kingdom of David. This was not the kingdom Jesus had in mind.  He had not come to play politics. ’My kingdom is not of this world’. Therefore in his preaching he spoke indirectly of the values of his kingdom, through parables.

Now Matthew was not simply reporting what Jesus said. He was writing for his own community and it seems that he was living with Jewish Christians in a Jewish area and some time, maybe, after the year 90. What had been happening since the death of Our Lord? Palestine had been ruled by Roman procurators in succession to Pontius Pilate.  They were not as a body sympathetic to the Jews and the last was the worst. He was called Florus. He treated Palestine as a personal perk, helping himself to what he wanted.  The spark came when he took money from the temple treasury, money dedicated to the worship of God. The Jews reacted by ostentatiously passing a basket round with the implication that poor Florus must be hard up. He expressed his annoyance by sending in troops to loot part of the city. The Jews took out their hidden weapons and drove the Romans away and successfully took over Palestine. The Emperor in Rome was Nero. Retribution was not long in coming. He sent his best general.  Jerusalem was besieged. It held out for months but in the year 70 was overcome and completely destroyed. The centre of Jewish faith was put out of action.  There were to be no more sacrifices in the temple. The Jewish leaders called a synod which met in Jamnia for about fifteen years ending in the year 90. They were not in despair. There had been a similar situation 500 years earlier when the Babylonians had crushed Jerusalem and destroyed the temple built by Solomon but God in his providence had brought about a restoration fifty years later. So there was hope but the synod of Jasmnia tightened up discipline as it centred the exercise of Jewish faith on the synagogue, with a stronger distinction between Jew and Christian. This was the atmosphere in which, it seems, St Mathew wrote his gospel.  He has the Jews in mind when he writes about the seed falling on stony ground. 

Today, perhaps, if he were writing for us he would put the emphasis on the thorns - all those elements of modern living which prevent us not only from listening to God but even to each other - when we are unwilling to turn our attention from the telly, a good book, i-pad, computer or mobile-phone..  Simply to listen is becoming a virtue in itself.


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