We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

A good, dramatic story always has been a good teaching device.  That is exactly what Matthew does here: pack some basic doctrine into a story that readers are likely to remember easily, a cosmic story of the battle between Good and Evil, God and the devil.  In this story, Jesus plays the dual roles of ascetic and prophet, further emphasizing his distinctiveness compared to the rest of humanity.

This story, in its place here, is commentary on the affirmation in the story of Jesus' baptism that he was the child of God (Matt. 3:17).  Now, we begin to understand what the author meant by that title.  He meant that Jesus was the one who had his priorities straight, who knew the true heart of the scriptures, and who had the power to order the devil to worship and serve God alone.  So, we better pay attention, the author is telling us.  This story is important.

The author thus uses the story to teach three fundamental points:  first, focus on what matters in life, which is not finances or pleasure; second, don't mess around with God esp. by using scripture in ways it wasn't intended to be used; and, third, give your first and ultimate allegiance to God, the Beyond that is Present.  In other words, for the first time in the gospel Jesus is here presented as our model for what it means to be his follower.  The story was just as much about Matthew's audiences as it was about Jesus, otherwise it wouldn't even be here.  We are pretty much convinced that we still need to hear the same message today, which is:
  • Focus on what matters.
  • Be humble about trying to live according to that focus, including be humble in the use of scripture.
  • Put trust in That which is worthy of trust and then live according to that trust.