A key turning point of Matthew’s Gospel occurs in 20: 17-19, when Jesus turns his face and his feet to Jerusalem, and warns the disciples of what awaits him: the cross. On this journey, Jesus is not only confronting the religious and political authorities, he is confronting conventional wisdom and turning it on its head. Conventional notions of marriage, status, wealth, fairness (20:1-9), and power are all getting turned on their heads, leading to enlightenment, symbolized by the healing of the two blind men (20:29-34). Matthew’s Gospel will occasionally posit two things (donkeys) or persons (blind men) where parallel accounts in Mark or Luke will only have one.
The Triumphal Entry (ch. 21), a fulfillment of Zephaniah’s prophecy, is another event that stands typical notions of power on its head, and yet still shows the courageous and confrontational nature of Jesus’ ministry. The cleansing of the temple sets in motion events that will lead to Jesus’ death. It is the last straw as far as his enemies are concerned. It is also a prophetic act foretelling the future destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and Jesus’ enemies would have understood it as such. This showdown with the authorities occasions the fourth long Torah-like utterance, Jesus’ accusations against them, in chapter 23. .
The coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple figure strongly into the fifth and final Torah-like compendium of Jesus’ teachings, in chapters 24 and 25. Most of the apocalyptic details likely apply to the coming events of 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, thus vindicating the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Yet the application of these warnings and teachings to the disciples’ readiness for his return are not unwarranted, and also reflected in this section. For the final judgment of the Son of Man, first promised in Daniel 7, is further explained in the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25: 31-46.
The arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus begins with a touching symbolic event, his anointing by an un-named woman. That is how the Messiah, the Anointed One, is anointed king over Israel, and his enthronement is upon a cross. The church’s ceremonial re-enactment of this anointing and enthronement, in holy communion, will be the re-interpreted Passover Feast, which is also the reminder and celebration of a new Exodus and deliverance.
Much is wrongly made of Mt. 27: 25, when the crowd shouts to Pilate, “His blood be upon us and our children!” Add this to other gospel-recorded disputes with Jewish leadership of the time, and some say that Matthew, the most Hebraic of the four canonical gospels, is also the most antisemitic. But a careful reading of the Passion story shows no one but Jesus looking good, Jewish nor Gentile, neither among Jesus’ friends nor his enemies. The self-inflicted curse of Mt. 27: 25 was fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem, and in no way gives license to Christian antisemitism.
PSALM 80 bears an eery connection with the crucifixion/coronation account in the Gospel above, in that it is prayer for a king in verse 17, (also named, “Son of Man”) and puts the nation’s hope of rescue and restoration in the one whom God gives to rule. “Then we will no longer turn away from you (v. 18).” The psalm reflects liturgical elements in the recurrent prayer, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” (vv. 3, 7 and 10)
PSALM 81 contains a lengthy prophecy (vv. 6-16), introduced by an invocation to worship. The prophecy contains both a reminder and a promise: a reminder of how God delivered the Hebrews from Egypt, and a promise that He will fight for them and give them rest, peace and prosperity if they are faithful to Him and trust in Him to do again as he did during the Exodus. It also contains a warning against stubbornness and rebellion toward God.
PSALM 82, one of twelve psalms ascribed to Asaph, who may be the father of the singers, musicians and worship leaders consecrated to the worship of God by King David (I Chronicles 25: 1-2). The “gods” and “sons of the Most High” addressed by this psalm may be the kings of neighboring nations, who were often addressed as such. But unlike the God of Israel, they had to be reminded (futilely) of their calling and responsibility to “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed;.Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Thus Biblical spirituality has always focused as much on the relationships outside of ourselves, of love, justice, compassion and mercy, as it does on the interior relationship within ourselves, of peace, poise and joy. Interestingly, the Psalm does not directly challenge the right of mortals to call themselves “gods,” but instead, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, challenges to act like God, again, in justice, impartiality and integrity, rather than in power alone. God even takes his place among them, but as their judge, not their equal.