Posted by: mattcolvin | December 6, 2011

Ominous Signs: Matthew 16:1-12


Wednesday of the Second Week in Advent: Matthew 16:1-12.

Jesus compares the Pharisees ability to foresee what is about to happen in history to their ability to predict the weather. This comparison is a pun on ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, which can mean both “from heaven” and “from the sky.” I wonder if there is a veiled threat that has crept into the weather predictions: ”Late in the day you say, ‘Fine weather, for the sky is fiery (πυρράζει)’ and early, “Today there will be a storm, for the sky is fiery (πυρράζει) and lowering.” (16:2-3) These “signs” both involve fire.

3: “…but you cannot understand the signs of the times (τῶν καιρῶν).” This does not mean just any times, but the eschatological times of God’s choosing. Jesus means that the Pharisees are not reliable guides to Israel’s unfolding story. Those who follow their narrative will not see the ending coming.

4: “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign, and a sign will not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus uses the pious passive periphrasis: “will not be given” = “God will not give.” The sign of Jonah — one rising from the dead after three days — was a sign of coming destruction on a city: “Yet 40 days, and Nineveh is overturned!” Just so, Jerusalem’s days are numbered.

When Jesus crosses over to the other side, He warns his disciples to keep away from the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. I love how the text never misses an opportunity to tell us when the disciples are being foolish: “It is because we forgot to bring bread.” (What does this episode teach Transsubstantiationists who think that Jesus does not speak figuratively about food? And He does it again in John 4:34.)

Jesus’ reminder about the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000 is a nice argument: “If it were a matter of actual bread, do you think I’d need to warn you about anything? I’d just MAKE some by miraculous means!”


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