Each of these chapters opens with religious leaders coming to test Jesus, and since they’re becoming more prominent in Matthew’s Gospel, it might be helpful to review what these groups were about.
The Sadducees were centered in Jerusalem and were predominantly upper-class. They accepted only the Torah – the five books of Moses – as authoritative, and pretty much governed life and worship in Jerusalem. Pharisees, on the other hand, were found throughout Judea and Galilee and trusted the authority of the prophets, historical writings, and oral tradition, in addition to Moses. Sadducees were generally unpopular, while Pharisees were held in high esteem. The Sadducees were compliant with Roman occupation and accepting of the influence of Greek thought; the Pharisees wanted no parts of either.
The scribes were not a formal group at all, but as the official copyists of scripture and recorders of legal proceedings, they were acknowledged as experts in the law. They were often found among the priesthood and many of them may have been Levitical. At a time when most people were illiterate, the Scribes were well-regarded and wielded considerable influence.
These groups found common ground in the problem of Jesus. He was challenging their monopoly on interpretation and teaching, and His hold over the crowds incited jealousy. Today Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind guides” who “break the commandment of God for the sake of [their] tradition.” He later warns the disciples to “Watch and beware of the leaven…the teaching… of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”
For all this and more, Jesus has compassion on the crowds. Today He heals their sick and feeds them, in and around Galilee. He gives His disciples a lesson on the faith that leads to perception. And in the middle of chapter 16, He calls them to commit: “…Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, and is given a promise.
And from that moment Matthew noticed a change. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Furthermore, His suffering will be shared, for “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me….”
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 15 and 16. 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.