Posts Tagged ‘Matthew’

What does Jesus mean when he says “The first shall be last and the last shall be first?”

February 17, 2010

What does the adage "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first" have to do with the workers in the vineyard?

Reference: Matthew 20 Matthew 20:16

Question:

What does Jesus mean when he says “The first shall be last and the last shall be first?”  And what does it have to do with the parable of the vineyard workers?

Answer:

The meaning of Jesus’ curious statement about the first and last role reversal has everything to do with the parable that precedes it.  I have said in previous posts that parables should not be treated as strict allegories.  In other words, we should avoid assigning a specific meaning to every element of a parable.  However, there are some overwhelming first-century symbols that cannot be overlooked.  In this parable we find just such a symbol… the vineyard.  Remember, we need to hear this parable as the first century listeners would have heard it.  Considering that important interpretive note, the idea of the vineyard takes on a potent meaning that cannot be ignored.

The vineyard was an analogy for the people of Israel (see Isaiah 5 or Psalm 80). The vineyard was a symbol of Israel and its promised prosperity.  With this knowledge the message of the parable becomes much clearer.  Thus the workers who come late still get to take part in the reward of the vineyard and its owner. Jesus is communicating a radical message to the leaders and the people of Israel that says, ‘the Kingdom of God has been opened up to the Gentiles too’.  The nation of Israel may have been first, but that doesn’t mean that others cannot receive the blessing.

Thus, when Jesus says “those who are last now will be first, and those who are first will be last” we must interpret it in light of Jesus message about Jews and Gentiles.  This is more than just a comment on pride and humility.  Jesus is suggesting that the ones who show up later, the Gentiles, have just as prominent a place in the kingdom of God as the Jews.  The trouble is that this does not sit well with those who were already there.  In Verses 10 and 11 one can see the discontent of the workers who showed up first.  It is there that you get a sense of what it means for the first to be last.   For those who think they deserve more and they get less, it feels like losing.  But what Jesus is really saying is that there is no distinction between those who arrive early and those who arrive late (Jews and Gentiles respectively).

Today this message applies to the Church.  Sometimes the Church can be so closed off from the world.  The message for those of us who know Jesus already is that we should long for all people to partake in the same reward that we ourselves receive when we follow after Jesus.

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Did Jospeh and Mary have sex after Jesus?

January 13, 2010

Question:

I was reading in Matthew 1:25 that Jospeh and Mary didn’t lay with one another until the birth of Jesus, so my question is.  We know that Jesus had siblings and it is implied that Joseph and Mary had sex according to Matthew 1:25, why do Catholics insist that Mary never had sex ever?

In matthew 1:23
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

Answer:

Mary is a very important figure in our faith, but it is important that we do not regard her more highly than we ought.

Yup.  I’m sure that the blessed mother and Joseph did their wild husband and wife thing after she had given birth to the Son of God.  Though I would imagine that they waited approximately 6 weeks in accordance with their doctor’s recommendations.

As you mentioned, Jesus did have other brothers and sisters.  The catholic tradition concerning the perpetual virginity of Mary has to do with a couple things.  One, catholics hold Mary in very high esteem, some merely in a Saint-like status, others likening her to a kind of deity.  This tradition existed from early church history some even believing that Mary was more than just a righteous woman, but a woman so beautiful that God himself was smitten with her.  Two, because of the low regard of the flesh, and sexual intercourse, as a result of the dualism of ancient Greek culture (i.e. soul = good, flesh = evil) it would have been hard for some early Christians to imagine that Mary had engaged in such a carnal activity as sexual intercourse.  This of course has hints of heresy all over it, it contradicts what we find in scripture (as pointed out above), and it disregards the high esteem that scripture holds for sex within the context of marriage.

Mary was not a deity, nor was she sinless, she was a young woman who was living her life in pursuit of God, and as such, she was blessed with one of the most unique and important blessings any woman has ever known.  But this blessing did not come without pain and suffering.  Like many other women who have experienced the tragedy of losing a child, Mary had to watch her own son butchered on a Roman torture device.  And while we believe that he rose again, the experience of watching her son executed must have been the most heart wrenching moment of her life.

Jesus did have brothers and sisters though (e.g. see Matt. 12:46, 13:55) and they weren’t born of a virgin, so you can do the math on that one. Some catholic scholars try to explain this away by calling into question the meaning of “brothers” in these texts, but these arguments come off as quite a stretch.

Was Herod the king jealous that baby Jesus was born? Why?

January 1, 2010

Question: Was Herod the king jealous that baby Jesus was born?  Why?

Yes.  Herod was a puppet king, placed in power by the Roman Empire.  But he was a king non-the-less, and like most kings he wanted more power not less power.  Then out of the east come some wise men on pimped out camels and fancy gifts, and these guys didn’t come to see king Harod, they came to see some other king.  Can you imagine what he was thinking?  Another king?!? Here?!?!

Jesus represented a new Kingdom, and his coming (though misunderstood) represented a threat to other powers, be they kings like Herrod, or spiritual authorities like the Pharisees and teachers of the law later in the gospel.  It was more than just jealousy that Harod felt as he ordered the massacre of hundreds of babies in Jerusalem, it was fear.  Fear of losing what was most important to him, his power.