Monday, October 01, 2012

The Giver is Given Up: Jesus' Death in Matthew (part 2)

A Cacophony of Conspirators (continued from part one)

From Matthew’s gospel the message resounds: Enmity is the human predicament, and Jesus takes it on in full. Though a willing participant, at the most excruciating moment Jesus reveals the depths of his suffering, crying from the cross: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (27:46, cf. Mark 15:34). Only one can remain faithful to God in the midst of all of this and it is he. By his self-giving love and faithfulness he is human the way humans were meant to be human. Only the resurrection will fully reveal the extent to which he is divine. For now, even he will feel forsaken by the Father. Though their communion is severed for a time, Jesus remains in holy submission to his Father in heaven , and both of them remain in a posture of self-giving love at the cross.

With the careful attention that he has paid to Judas, the conspiracy of the Jewish leaders, the turmoil of Pilate, and the failure of Jesus’ closest friends, it should come as no surprise that Matthew is the only gospel-writer to record what Morna Hooker has called the “climax of the rejection of Jesus by his own people.” In 27:25 they cry: “His blood be on us and on our children!” As the story unfolds, in this statement the readers is notified that Jesus’ innocence of what they are charging him flips the curse on the heads of the accusers rather than the accused. Yet it is in this handing over of Jesus to death that the irony of the situation reveals itself. This same blood has been poured out for the forgiveness of sins. As Morna Hooker notes:
Matthew’s is the only account of the Last Supper to make reference to the idea of forgiveness. One interesting fact is that the phrase ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ is used by Mark and Luke (but not by Matthew!) of John’s baptism of repentance: did Matthew deliberately transfer it from the baptism of John to the death of Jesus? Whatever the explanation, we have here one of the rare statements in the gospels that attempts to explain what the death of Jesus achieved (Not Ashamed of the Gospel, 18).
While the blood of Jesus on his betrayers entails a damning indictment, it simultaneously and paradoxically provides the way of salvation.

Παραδιδοµι: Jesus is Handed Over

For Matthew, the people’s rejection of Jesus is both their rebellion against God and also, paradoxically, their cooperation with Him. The Jesus who is handed over to death is the Jesus who was first handed to humanity by the Father, and who has willingly submitted to that handing over himself. The choice of words here is intentional. Matthew himself insists on using it. The word παραδιδοµι, often translated in terms of betrayal, handing over, or delivering up, is used 119 times in the New Testament, 31 of which are in Matthew. This is in comparison to 52 times in the other three gospels combined (the closest being Mark’s 20 occurrences). Παραδιδοµι is used in Matthew’s passion narrative (15x in chs. 26-27) as often as in the entire gospel of John. This is a theme in Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus’ death worth investigating.

Many times that Matthew uses this word it carries a definite sense of foreboding. It appears in two of Jesus’ three passion predictions (παραδιδοσθαι, 17:22-23, cf. Mark 9:31,20, Luke 9:44; παραδοθησεται and παραδωσουσιν in 20:17-19; cf. Mark 10:32-34, Luke 18:31-34), and it shows up in Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples where Matthew leaves nothing to mystery and names Judas as the one “who betrayed” Jesus (παραδουσ, 10:4; cf. Mark 3:19, Luke 6:16). Jesus seems to know what is coming, telling his disciples what awaits: The Son of Man will be “delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him”. His commission includes a warning about what will be the fate of those who follow him. Not only councils, synagogues, governors and kings but also brother, father, and child will “deliver you up” to flogging, hatred, and death (παραδωσουσιν, παραδωσιν, παραδωσει, 10:17-21; cf. Mark 13:9-13, Luke 21:11-12). This is a far cry from the common evangelical notion that Jesus died so we do not have to.

The first time this word is used in Matthew is in the context of a passage about reconciling quickly lest an accuser “hand you over to the judge” (παραδω, 5:25, cf. Luke 12:58). The last time is when Jesus is before Pilate and is “delivered” to crucifixion (παρεδωκεν, 27:26, cf. Mark 15:15, Luke 23:25, John 19:16). In between, Matthew has the unique parable of the unforgiving servant, whose master “delivered” him to the jailers out of anger for his failure to forgive a fellow servant (παρεδωκεν, 18:34). It is a startling fact that although it is the Father’s will to hand Jesus over to death for the sake of others, those who do not follow his merciful lead will be handed over to death as well, except with very little hope of receiving the everlasting benefit of Jesus’ ransom (18:23-35, cf. 20:28).

Matthew persistently alerts his readers to this. At the outset of the passion narrative he has Jesus tell his disciples that he is about to be “delivered up” (παραδιδοται, 26:2), and from there Judas approaches the Jewish leaders with the idea is that he will “deliver” Jesus to them (παραδοσο and παραδω, 26:15-16, cf. Mark 14:10-11, Luke 22:4-6). Then comes the dramatic scene at supper when Jesus suggests each of his disciples to be a potential betrayer (παραδωσει, 26:21-23, cf. Mark 14:18-19, Luke 22:21-23, John 13:21-25). In Matthew, they ask: “It is not I, is it, Lord?” (26:22). Donald Senior describes the narrative strategy:
Matthew designs this scene so that it mounts in tension until the confrontation between Jesus and Judas .... The passage is calculated to draw the Christian reader into the story to ask the same question (The Passion, 62).
Matthew parts from the rest to focus in on this point even more forcefully, reporting that “Judas, who betrayed him, said, ‘Is it I, Master?’” (παραδιδουσ, 26:25). Jesus' reply (“You have said so,” 26:25) is Matthew's way of simultaneously telling the story, showing Jesus' full awareness of the situation, and keeping the onus on the betrayer in a way that compels readers to take a hard look inside.

After Jesus is “delivered to Pilate” (παρεδωκαν, 27:2; cf. Mark 15:1), in Matthew’s account the “betrayer” sees that he has “sinned in betraying innocent blood” and repents (παραδιδουσ and παραδουσ, 27:3-4). However, he repents to the Jewish leaders rather than to Jesus, not realizing that if he hangs on longer he will actually get a chance to do the latter. Judas’ short-sighted repentance falls on deaf and helpless ears. Out of envy, they too have “delivered” Jesus up to death (παρεδωκαν, 27:18, cf. Mark 15:10).

Considering the emphases already noted in Matthew’s gospel, παραδιδοµι is certainly an intriguing choice of words. By its prevalence the evangelist may be trying to connect Jesus’ suffering with the LXX of Isaiah 53:6 and 12, or hearkening Jewish readers back to Daniel 7:25, where the saints of the Most High are “handed over” to the final king of the kingdom. In the latter case, this would suggest that Jesus “is reenacting a key stage of the history of God’s people: he must himself undergo his own version of their humiliation.” Either way the connection is not overt; it seems this term is being invested with more significance than it previously carried.

Considering the way the death of Jesus has been presented by Matthew, it would seem that παραδιδοµι has at the same time rightly been translated as “betray” and gravely underestimated as such. Παραδιδοµι is “an intensified form of ‘give’”—only in context does it take on the significance of betrayal. In the case of Judas, the stereotypical understanding of παραδιδοµι suffices, but it veils the larger context of Jesus’ delivery into the hands of his enemies, unto suffering, and even unto death. Judas was not the only one to hand Jesus over: The other disciples played a part, Jesus himself participated in the delivery, and so did God the Father. This is not simply a case of Jesus being tricked and betrayed. As Karl Barth notes:
The freedom of which Jesus was robbed by Judas is clearly only a pale reflection of the divine freedom of which God robbed Him, of which He robbed Himself. . . . It was the divine omnipotence and freedom of which Jesus let Himself be robbed—by means of Judas, yet not by Judas in the first instance, but originally in that He humbled Himself and took the form of a servant and was found in fashion as a man. The real and original handing-over of Jesus is clearly the fact that the Word became flesh (Jn. 1:14). . . . The fact that this takes place is included in the condescension of God, in which God resigns his divine glory to the extent that He conceals it, that He does not assert it, that He even allows its opposite to triumph over Him (Church Dogmatics II/2, 489).
Putting it in Matthean language: This handing-over is “Emmanuel . . . God with us” (1:23).

With Jesus’ participation, if this is a betrayal, then it is an odd one. With the Father’s participation, if this is a conspiracy it is one of cosmic proportions. But the Father is hardly a conspirator and the Son is hardly a helpless victim: This is God giving himself to humanity, and it is accomplished as the Son submits perfectly to the will of the Father under the anointing of the Spirit. This is the self-giving love of the Trinity poured out upon creation, and it is this same life of self-giving love that Jesus wishes to impart to his followers. From “the Lord’s prayer” to the garden of Gethsemane and from the beatitudes to the putting away of the sword at his arrest, this has been a consistent theme of Jesus’ teaching and example in the book of Matthew. What remains for us is to receive it—to be baptized and follow—or not (28:16-20). By rejection we participate negatively; by repentance positively. Either way, we are serving the ends of God.

(to be continued...)

No comments: