In the middle of chapter 12, Matthew foreshadows the trajectory of the rest of the story: But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, to destroy Him. Now “destroy” can mean a few things. It can mean to literally kill Jesus. It can also mean to discredit Him, or to distract Him, to somehow neutralize Him so that He would be ineffective.
This is a bit of a watershed for the Gospel: our reading before this helps us see the Pharisees’ motivation; our reading afterwards exposes their intended result, at least initially. Put yourself in the mind of the original reader who probably knows the basics of the Jesus story: they’d heard of some miraculous birth, they knew He died, and they knew – at least it had been reported – that He’d risen. But this shell of a story leaves more questions than answers, and Matthew has set about reporting on what He has investigated and personally seen.
There was the moment when John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus from prison: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” and Jesus answered, “Go tell John what you see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk…” How He then condemned the cities where most of His mighty works had been done… “Chorazin!..Bethsaida…if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.”
Then there was that Sabbath when Jesus and His disciples were picking grain to eat, and Pharisees tried to lecture Him on the law. Then Jesus went into the synagogue and they practically dared Him to heal a man with a withered hand. It’s hard to tell whether the Pharisees are more angry that Jesus called Himself “The Lord of the Sabbath” or that He actually proved it. Either way, that was the day Matthew first reported their conspiracy against Jesus.
Jesus got wind of this and withdrew but kept healing – funny how the prophets predicted this as well – but the Pharisees kept turning up. When Jesus cast out a demon, they just redirected the people: “It is only by…the Prince of Demons that this man casts out demons.” Then when they asked Him for a sign, like they wanted to believe just like John the Baptist had, Jesus communicated the only sign they would receive – the one that would finally condemn them.
Our verse for this week is Psalm 19:4: Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Matthew 11 and 12. Now let’s read it!
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.