In our parish councils and other teamwork, we strive to appreciate the diversity of ideas and opinions in the group and work toward consensus. But when it comes to the Gospel of Matthew, all voices are silenced by the one crying in the wilderness which culminates with Jesus crying out from the cross and yielding his spirit. What follows is the apocalyptic quaking of the earth, tearing of the temple curtain, opening of tombs, and the raising of saints who all witness to the same message proclaimed by the one voice.
As we celebrate All Saints, Fr. Timothy Lowe suggests they witness to the message that must shake our own world, break our idols, and silence the noise that distracts us from the race we are called to run according to the Gospel.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You are listening to Doulos a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And with me today is my co host Fr. Timothy Lowe, former Rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. A good Pentecost to you, Fr. Timothy,
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:29
Well, thank you, Hollie, and likewise to yourself.
Hollie Benton 0:32
So Father, many of the conversations around leadership, even servant leadership, focus on how to get people involved and engaged, how to appreciate the diversity of ideas and opinions in the group, and how to work towards consensus, not even necessarily agreement within a diverse and opinionated group. But when it comes to the Gospel, even when it is read, during the liturgy, all voices are silenced. We are expected to hold our tongue and attend to the wisdom of the One Lord and Master. I understand you're working on a study of the Gospel of Matthew and His scripture, even in its development of characters, or perhaps non development of characters because they hardly speak. The idea of the one voice crying out in the wilderness is paramount. It's not a cacophony of many voices, of many opinions, but one true, wise, and single life-giving voice proclaiming the good news. So are we supposed to understand that the Lord isn't interested in my opinions and ideas? That the Lord isn't serving the consensus of the group He has invited to His table?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 1:46
Okay, you know, I have to chuckle because the answer is absolutely no interest whatsoever. I mean, look at the Gospel of Matthew: He calls, we respond, we don't respond. It's not well, do I or don't I? No, no, He calls, He initiates, we respond yes or no. And I think when He drags them up to the mountain, and what we call the Sermon on the Mount, I prefer to call it the mountain of instruction, because that's what it is. But it is a mountain. It's an image of the Sinai Mountain. He sits. He talks. And of course, often He says, You have heard it said, But I say to you, blah, blah, blah, and He goes on to give his teaching about the true meaning of the law. My point is, there is no discussion, there is no dialogue. In fact, if you read the entire Gospel of Matthew, you can see, Peter tried it once, for example, in Matthew 16, after he got all puffed up about being called Peter, and "On this rock, I will build my church," and Christ tries to instruct them about the cross about the suffering Messiah, about the events of Jerusalem, which of course, Peter then takes it upon himself to reject it first of all, by rebuking Christ. And then Christ calls him Satanas and says, "Get thee behind me." He's a stumbling block, Peters, a stumbling block. So yes, it's about understanding, it's about listening. And the gospel does allow the disciples to ask questions when they're dull, and don't understand, you know, the parable of the sower, read in in Matthew. There's a couple instances where they take him off to the side to ask, Now what did you mean? And then he goes on as an expansion. Any dialogue with Christ is not on equal terms. Okay? Yes, he's not interested in our ideas. It is simply sit. And now this is 21st century, and I would say that we are more weak-minded, Hollie, therefore, we should sit because we have access to pen paper, iPads, whatnot, voice recorders, take the bloody notes. Because we will not remember. I'm projecting - my aged memory and its inability to retain anything short term. So I have to like look at it again and again. So yes, he is not interested. And that should not cause us a crisis, because he's the one with the authoritative voice from the mountain. And it continues. So yeah, sorry. Now, what happens and I just had an interesting story with a colleague of mine, about a parish council meeting where the issue was consensus. And there was one member of the council meeting who absolutely would not listen to the consensus. They vote on an issue, majority, blah, blah, blah. And he was saying it's a moral ethical issue. So it's not about consensus, which in theory, he's correct. It has nothing to do about consensus, okay. But he would not accept that his perhaps moralism was flawed, because it had nothing to do with loving your neighbor and needless to say, he had a choice either to follow or to resign. He chose to resign. Righteous indignation and whatnot. Consensus is important. But it can be wrong. There can be the voice in the wilderness from the one guy or he can be a crackpot. I like one statement from a professor friend of mine, he said, there's a fine line between nonconformity and crack pottery. Sometimes we're veering into the crack pottery area, as opposed to the voice in the wilderness. So let's stick with scripture, let's stick with that voice. And that way, we will end up being on firm ground.
Hollie Benton 5:31
So as we will be celebrating All Saints, the day that this podcast is released, you suggested that we hearken to Matthew 27:50-54f or today's reading. These verses provide an exciting Steven Spielberg moment in the culmination of Christ's crucifixion. So here it is. "And Jesus cried again, with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks were split, the tombs were also opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they went into the holy city, and appeared to many, when the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake, and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, Truly, this was the Son of God." So the Lord had indeed acted with his right hand of power. And we can see that the Lord has dominion over everything from the temple to the earth, both over the living and the dead. And they're all reacting to this moment, perhaps not even really understanding the impact of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 6:47
Oh, Hollie, you know, obviously, as you just said, it's a climactic moment, everything goes to this moment. So I think I would like to just do a short, exegetical exercise for our listeners. It will be a little bit of a lesson on perhaps how to read and interpret the gospel texts by paying attention to detail. Why, because I'm of the opinion, starting with myself, and which I'm trying to repent of, that we often read quickly, and don't pay attention to detail, which basically means we don't really respect the intelligence or the brilliance of the writer, and seeing the depth and the breadth and how systematically he has brought us the Gospel of Matthew, to this point, to this climax, and how he framed it. Because Matthew does something that the other gospel writers don't do in this story. He adds a few things. And then we can say, well, what is the meaning of those things? And as we've briefly talked, it is all about understanding, how we see, how we are taught, how we hear, and therefore, of course then, what we do, since this is really the end of the story. The translation that you read from, I don't know which version are you using, by the way?
Hollie Benton 8:04
Fr. Timothy Lowe 8:04
So I wanted to compliment you on the translation you chose. Because, for example, this one, I think it's a new RSV, it will say, "And Christ breathed His last," and yours said, "Yielded up His spirit." That's the correct translation. But a lot of English translations just say, "He breathed His last," which is just a translation of Mark. So what does this mean? And even the Greek doesn't even say "his spirit." It just says "he yielded the spirit," that which animates his body, okay, and let's not philosophize, what allows him to breathe. And it's that moment that triggers the rest. So this is the apocalyptic moment, the idea of yielding is a voluntary action. Matthew, time and again, wants to stress the voluntary nature of everything that has happening. Christ is voluntarily going to his death, voluntarily going up to Jerusalem, he's teaching us. He's teaching us this point, okay, this is the will of God, and that He must accept it. So even here at the end, he just sort of tweaks it by saying He Himself makes the choice to yield up His spirit, which is an odd way of thinking, because that's not how life works, okay. We don't get to choose the time of our death, unless we take our own death, which as my neighbor down the street once said about her adolescence, when she thought about it, she said, not a good idea to make a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Just hold off, there are other solutions. Avoid the permanent one, especially in your adolescence when life seems, can be at its worst.
So anyway, so that's point one of just paying attention to detail and how it relates to the whole movement of Matthew's gospel. That's why I mentioned Peter and his rejection of the cross because that's going to continue, and Peter stands for us. And we're going to see how that issue affects the others, that we really do not want the cross. We don't want the crucified Messiah, because that reverberates. Let's talk about the reverberation because this is where we as Christians systematically fail, and then functionally deny the gospel message. Because by reverberation, something starts here and begins to sort of filter down, filter down. So Christ breathes, gives up his spirit. This triggers the events that you just read, the shaking of the earth. There's so many examples of the earth shaking and quaking and trembling and whatnot. And Christ talks about it even in Matthew about the second coming, how the sun will darken and the stars will fall and Matthew is portraying this simple event, it reverberates into an apocalyptic event. Now I for one, this is not a historical event, okay, I mean, I don't want to scandalize anyone. But Matthew wants to convey, teach us we are not seeing it with visible eyes. It is an apocalyptic event, as if the world is coming to an end. To see how Matthew continues, through his artistic imagery, reflection of other biblical passages that have led up to this moment, so we can hear and understand that Christ has voluntarily given up his life on the cross. The earth quakes. Things get dark. The tombs shatter. Some, this is also only in Matthew, this is why this is an interesting passage. Mark doesn't mention them. They just say the earth quakes and the centurion makes his confession of faith. No, no, no, no, no, he wants to see that the foundations of the earth are shaking, the tombs are being shattered, and the dead are being raised, not general dead, some of the bodies of the saints. And for Matthew, this could only reflect the righteous ones that have suffered, that have suffered like the suffering Messiah, for the message, which was always a message against corruption and injustice and righteousness and wherever it's found, namely, kings and religion. What is odd about this passage is that, "and they appeared to people in Jerusalem." But notice, it doesn't say it's happening right now. It happens after Jesus is raised from the dead. The point is, something I wish we could all understand is that since we're celebrating All Saints, is that they are functional witnesses of the message of the gospel. We can get into their stories and whatnot, but they serve to function to witness. The whole point of Pentecost, you could never get it from what we read in church, because we read the first ten or eleven verses of Acts 2. People, you need to continue reading chapter two and chapter three. Because the idea of the universal message that goes out is for everyone now. It's not the private ownership or property of a specific ethnic religious group, okay. It's an apocalyptic event. And everybody is hearing it in their own language. And the invitation, when Peter gets up to begin to preach, he calls them a corrupt and evil generation. And that, all of a sudden, they're quickened with the message. And then they say, What shall we do? This apocalyptic moment of the earthquake and the witness gets enhanced by the witness of the centurion. And notice Matthew does something else here, where in Mark's centurion is single, see, but here, "and the others with him." Now if you want to understand the magnitude, these are the same people who just recently mocked him, and then crucified Him. So for them to confess, "Oh, truly, he was the son of God." Now Orthodox then will start thinking, oh, what does this mean? The divine Logos, blah, blah, blah. No, Matthew's not interested in that at all. This confession of the Son of God which happens from time to time by various people, and in Matthew, Christ never accepts this designation. When he talks about himself, it's Son of Man. Because if you talk about Son of God and the context, Roman imperial life, the Son of God is always the Emperor. He's the adopted one. He is the functional Son of God. For them to confess Jesus as a Son of God means to put aside the whole Roman reality of everything, it's gone. Okay? It's gone. People need to understand that their particular confession has echoes, reverberates, shakes, okay, shakes, seismic activity for their life because it has implications for what they think, how they understand, what they do. The crafting of these few verses that we can just gloss over, we can historicize them, the bodies of the saints arose, and now Jesus will descend into hell, and Christ is risen, right. But there's so much more. All of this. We see how our understanding of Jesus as the Crucified One voluntary, as, if we confess him, Son of God, as in not our Caesar, a Messiah that is not a world ruler. A Messiah who is not going to solve our climate changes or politics or bring peace between Ukraine and Russia and every other place. It's not going to happen. But the implication, and this is what I want our hearers to understand as we celebrate the lives of the saints, who stand over and against us, because if this mere clay, see, this mere 'adamah, this mere fleshliness, and others can live the gospel life, then we, not just can, we must. So I see the saints, if we celebrate them as apocalyptic as everything else we've just read, as witnesses to the race that must be run, and it is possible, and therefore, we have no excuse. I'm not interested in all the miraculous stories, because that makes them exceptional, not like the norm. And I want to go backwards and dumb them down. Okay, and say, This isn't just, you know, something that we can pick and choose, this is intrinsic on what we must do, understand and live. And therefore it's not voluntary. We are called - make the decision, yes or no. We are taught - make the decision, hear it and implement. But you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Now we could go on about what I would call the earth shaking, shattering, breaking of our understanding that the gospel does and that's what this image is about. The world is not in the same place. Functionally, we look around, it's the same place. It's not changing, it's getting darker. We're not talking about the clouds. We're talking about the human reality is getting darker and more desperate and more unsolvable. So the apocalyptic reality of our world is there. Is it the end of the world? I don't know. To quote our beloved professor, he says, "God does not come at the end of the world. When God appears, it is the end." He's going to appear. And when He does, He comes, first of all, in His power in His glory, and to judge and to hold us accountable. So as we begin to celebrate the All Saints, it is this message, the same message of the cross universally inviting all in and the centurion and his buddies are the first in terms of witnessing the event. You and I are not going to get to see the event. For us, it's a proclamation, it's a hearing. We are entering into that, believing it and then of course, shaping our life after it. So okay, I've talked. It's your turn.
Hollie Benton 18:37
I think you've said it all. I've been silenced. I'm meant to listen, and to hearken to the voice and respond, just like you said, Father.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:47
Oh, God help us, Hollie. To me, it's a difficult time. Just not a challenge to our personal faith, because ultimately, I think it's a corporate faith. But we must hear and learn.
Hollie Benton 18:58
That's right. God willing, our ears will be open and our feet will start moving.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 19:05
Yes. And again, if I could just exhort people to pay attention to the details and the brilliant literary craft of the Gospels. These people were brilliant.
Hollie Benton 19:19
Thank you so much, Fr. Tim. Appreciate the exegesis and the attention to detail.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 19:25
You are most welcome. We're trying!
Transcribed by https://otter.ai