Yesterday’s post “And so we have it!” certainly suggests that with the major parties capitulating to “marriage equality” demands there are massive issues at stake. They are so momentous that it is well to stand aside and refuse to play the silly and farcical game of the Liberal Coalition parties with their national survey. It is a thoroughly confused strategy – unprincipled at root – and likely to generate still more political confusion and more unprincipled parliamentary manipulation.
Our advice: stay well clear. Keep your head and refuse to be badgered by this nonsense.
So with that dissent we are still in need of perspective, a light to lighten the path ahead. Here is my effort to suggest some things about the way in which Matthew gave the early church teaching of Jesus that helps us reconsider our membership in the “kingdom of heaven” in this 2017 context. It not only helps us see what is crucial for our everyday life, as we come to terms with a new and upcoming generations of children, but also for how we should see the connection between our contributions to the nurturing of these generations and the manner in which public life is formed (and we are taxed).
Matthew 18: 1-7
Here follows a series of exchanges where the disciples of Jesus begin to probe Jesus further, since his teaching is so obviously fresh and new and gives raise to all kinds of thinking that hitherto has not been thought about.
Jesus has begun to “open the eyes of the blind” – particularly of his disciples. Yes, their Kingdom of Heaven responsibilities include their task as those who live in a political realm, but not necessarily as they have come to construe it. His teaching instructs them to be motivated to give freely as God has given freely to them (Matt 10:8). This is part of a divinely mandated reciprocity that cannot be withheld from by the disciple from rulers even if these rulers sadly neglect their subjects by recourse to pre-emptive powers that claim ownership of the stewardship that has been given them by God.
And so the question of true greatness – albeit in a context of power-mongered demand for tribute – is raised.
Who commands immediate respect in God’s Kingdom, Lord?
Jesus’ answer turns the world upside down. These disciples were being forcibly induced to view it in another way. It is as if Jesus’ replies:
Oh I have been wondering when you might ask that question. It’s so important. Well done for asking. Here’s the answer – this lad, this lass, here, this three year-old who is still so much reliant upon being held in mum and dad’s arms – this child is the one to whom you, with all your adult sophistication, with all your tax reduction schemes, with all your skilful apprecticeships in various occupations, with all your learning from synagogue and school, with all the understanding you have gleaned from your parents and elders – this is the person who must command first and foremost respect in your life. And you know, unless you turn around and face this reality, and stop blundering on in your quest to command respect and in deed become a child, just like this one, there’s simply no way you can set out on the paths of God’s kingdom. This is because the pathways of God’s Kingdom are especially reserved for those are humble, who humble themselves like this child – get to know and sing, and keep on singing Psalm 131. Being one to one such child is being open to me – to me, your Lord, Master, Rabbi, the Son of Man, the one you are so keen to confess as Israel’s Messiah.
In his exposition of the tribute that His Father expects those associated with His Son to pay tribute to the Imperial Government – lest there be cause for offense. What Jesus says to his disciples leads on to what he says here about the consequences – the offense, the scandal – of not giving first and foremost respect to children.
More and more in our reading of this Gospel we have evidence of Matthew’s way of developing his narrative. As he develops the brief discussion about the paying of tribute, it is as if Matthew says to us “Oh and that word offense (σκάνδαλον) in the context of Jesus’ response about tribute, that reminds of this other time when Jesus used that word.” This seems to be part of the way Matthew maintains continuity in his story-telling narrative.
We see here a pertinent question about following Jesus, following Jesus in a political context requiring the payment of taxes, following Jesus by looking forward as we pay these taxes to how they will be put to good use, following Jesus by reckoning with the Kingdom of heaven’s deep, persistent and ongoing concern for how the next generation is being respected as it should be in our lives, following Jesus by giving respect to the ongoing human task of bringing children into God’s creation and nurturing them. He reckons with the problems, the offenses, the scandals, the sins.
The implication is that we are simply not on the same page as our Father in heaven if we do not understand His earnest desire of us as disciples of His Son to ascribe first-and foremost respect to who we are because of our being associated with His Son. it is as if Jesus continues:
And this all means that you are those He has given to me, you, you as His children too, just like this child here.
That then leads Jesus to a warning that burned the ears of those attending.
In God’s Kingdom any lack of first and foremost respect to any of these, whoever they may be, by actions that throw a hurdle of offense onto their path, is simply a disaster for the one doing so. The consequences of missing this point, even if by a concerted effort of giving offense in response to offense being given, is, quite frankly, to miss out on life itself. You might as well be drowned, well and truly.
Sure, says Jesus, these offences, these historically constructed hurdles that stand in the way of a new generation’s proper respect, are bound to come, but don’t go contributing, paying tribute, to these scandals. Keep well away.
And the way of keeping well away, presumably, is a life in keeping with Jesus’ teaching – because He is God’s own Son – and this teaching nurtures a new generation of those, just like us, only now as we take up our nurturing task, we become moreso like what we are becoming to be (an awkward construction admittedly but also used by the Apostle Paul who had to learn from Jesus how to forego his former offense at the Gospel – 2 Cor 3:18). This is the way to keep on identifying ourselves as children in God’s Kingdom.
This account would assist the young church in what their task was in relation to what Jesus had done and taught in his ministry. The sadness of the disciples at his prophesy that he was going to be killed – like John the Baptist – was no forerunner to an anger that would be oriented to rebellion about the Romans. This part of Matthew’s Gospel gives sound precedents to how Jesus expected his followers, not only to pay their taxes, but also to keep on encouraging the raising families even if it were in circumstances of alien imperial rule and oppression.