The Good Book Club | Week of May 24
Next week: Matthew 26—27:66

The Passion begins. If you’re like me and wonder why these final days are called the Passion, then you’ll be glad to know that Google offers a good explanation: The word “passion” comes from a Latin word for suffering. And there’s a lot of it in these two chapters.

We begin with chapter 26, the longest in Matthew, and hold on, because it’s nothing but a bumpy ride, from Judas’s betrayal to Peter’s three-time denial of knowing Jesus. This chapter and the next are bleak, and if they were the end of the story, then our churches and indeed, our very lives of faith, would be much different. Thankfully, on Pentecost, we’ll read of the triumph after the torture.

We open with the religious leaders plotting against Jesus, and the narrative continues to set the stage for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. We encounter an interesting story with the woman who pours costly ointment on the head of Jesus. This anointing serves as a grim harbinger of Jesus’ death. Judas’s words here, claiming to be aghast at the waste of such fragrant oil, seem particularly hollow when we read just a few verses later his intention to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Interestingly, the value of the silver is significantly less than that of the oil, so Judas was willing to betray his teacher for a few meager coins while the woman gave the equivalent of a year’s salary or more to honor Jesus.

Matthew’s account of the Last Supper is familiar. We hear these words during the celebration of Holy Eucharist: “Take, eat; this is my body,” and then after raising the chalice, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus moves from the final meal with his friends to the Garden of Gethsemane, where we begin to experience his agony. Jesus knows the suffering the coming days will bring and yet prays to his Father, “not what I want but what you want.”

Judas seals his betrayal with a kiss, and guards seize Jesus. While Jesus faces trial and tribulation with the chief priests and council, Peter undergoes his own test: Just as Jesus predicted, Peter denies knowing him three times. When the cock crows, Peter recalls Jesus’ words and weeps.

We move into chapter 27 and the day of Jesus’ death. This chapter features several details of the narrative that are only found in the Gospel of Matthew. Only here do we read of Judas’s suicide and how the silver he so selfishly sought purchased the so-called Field of Blood. Matthew is the only gospel in which we hear about Pilate’s wife and her foreboding dream and how Pilate literally and figuratively washes his hands of complicity in Jesus’ death. This account alone talks about how bodies of the saints “who had fallen asleep were raised” and that religious leaders asked for (and received) guards for the tomb so that no one could steal Jesus’ body and then claim he had risen from the dead. (That part didn’t work out so well for the guards).

Jesus is brought before Pilate, and the governor asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” In an answer that must surely have maddened Pilate, Jesus says, “You say so.” Despite Pilate’s pressing, Jesus does not answer the accusations. Then Pilate turns to the crowd, which clamors for the release of another prisoner, Barabbas. The suffering continues for Jesus as they twist a crown of thorns onto his head, spit on, and strike him. Then they led him to Golgotha—known as Place of a Skull—for crucifixion.

The torture continues: they offer wine mixed with gall and cast lots for his clothes. With a sign overhead, they mock, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” At three in the afternoon, as darkness comes over the land, Jesus cries with a loud voice and breathes his last. The earth shakes. Rocks split. Tombs open. The curtain of the temple is torn in two. Jesus is dead.

But he is not alone. “Many women were also there,” including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. That evening, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and (perhaps secret) follower of Jesus, asks Pilate for the body of Jesus, binds him in linen clothes and spices, and buries him in Joseph’s own tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sit by the tomb, ever faithful, even unto death, to their teacher and friend.

Our readings end this week with Jesus dead and buried. But we know this is a life and death and life story, and we will return on Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost, to celebrate the Good News of the risen Christ.
Reflection

1. Imagine you are with Jesus and someone pours on his head some very expensive oil—perhaps the equivalent of a year’s salary. Would you be like Judas, seeing it as wasteful? What does the story say to us today about the gifts we are to offer Jesus?

2.  Judas offers to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Think about moments of betrayal in your life. When have you betrayed someone—willfully or accidentally? When have you been betrayed? What do you think motivated Judas to betray Jesus? How would the narrative be different if Judas had not betrayed Jesus? Is betrayal an integral part of the gospel story?

3. In the face of a life-or-death scenario, most would put up an intense fight. But Jesus doesn’t raise a defense. Why do you think Jesus spoke so few words?

4. Women are with Jesus, during the crucifixion and afterward at the tomb. Think about the role of women in the Bible. What does their witness here at Jesus’ side say to us today?
Read, Listen, Share!


  • The Good Book Club Podcast: Each day, listen to the scripture passage and a reflection on the Gospel of Matthew. Offered in partnership with the Episcopal Church’s Office of Communication and available on all streaming platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts.
 Participant Spotlight

Each week, we ask readers to share their stories of the Good Book Club. This delightful and inspiring email arrived last week from Brooke Johnson Suiter of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
 
I don’t have any great words or a photo of me in my “prayer chair,” located by a window overlooking my garden. 
 
I do want to say how grateful I am for all that the Episcopal Church (Episcopal News Service), Forward Movement, my diocese (North Carolina), and my parish church (St. Timothy’s) are doing to nourish me during this time of isolation. I am in my 70s and live alone. My three adult children live far away, and I had been traveling frequently to visit each of them and my grandchildren. Now we visit via Zoom and FaceTime and exchange daily texts. They bring me laughter and joy.
 
I am fortunate that I enjoy my own company and the peace and quiet of my lushly green neighborhood and the beauty of my garden. My only chores are to care for myself and my elderly rescued cat, water my garden, and to keep the bird feeders filled so that I can enjoy their activity from my back porch. 
 
I am blessed to have the time to dwell in the word of God and the wisdom of so many teachers and preachers in our church. Modern technology has been such a wonderful resource for providing morning and evening prayer services online, sung compline, and Bible studies, from multiple sources. 
 
God is good, and I am glad to have this time for preparing for what a favorite priest always referred to as “our longest journey,” meaning our death. However, having been at the bedside of many relatives at that moment, it seems to me to be a short journey from here to there, from one breath to no breath, wherever and whatever “there” is. 
 
I squeeze the multiple joys out of each day, and “my cup runneth over; surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” AMEN!
How are you participating in the Good Book Club? Share your story with us (and send pictures too, if you have them, whether it’s a screenshot of a Zoom meeting or a picture of you with your Bible in a comfy chair!). We’ll highlight participants from across the church. Send the information to Richelle at rthompson@forwardmovement.org .

Let’s learn from and be inspired by each other!
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