Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Fruits Theology of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew has a fruits theology, the significance of which has not been previously appreciated. Matthew uses the word “fruits” six times in his gospel including three times in his Parable of the Wicked Tenants. The last of the series is the verse that made me realized that Matthew has a unique fruits theology:

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, ‘what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner”; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it." Matt 21:38-43.

Verse 43 is unique to Matthew. It is missing from the parallel passage in Luke and Mark.

Matthew has chosen to emphasize displacement in the context of the covenant of election. The Parable of the Laborers, although separated by fourteen pericopes, is related. These three Matthean parables are about God's vineyard and His expectations of justice and righteousness represented by the 'fruits', whether it be something radical about economic arrangements in society or the radical equality to be shown to those who accept the invitation to become co-workers in the vineyard planted by God. The 'time for fruit' has been a theme of his since the preaching of John in chapter 3. Matthew's unique focus on 'fruits' is in fact related to his view that because the vineyard did not yield 'fruits' the Temple was destroyed. In Hebrew, 'fruit' is transliterated as kais and pronounced the same as kes which means 'destruction.' Is the wordplay in the 8th chapter of Amos the inspiration for 21:43? The allusion to Amos 8:2 is admittedly subtle but the use of wordplay and subtlety is the hallmark of prophetic preaching. The definition of wordplay and/or pun is broad enough to include the use of one word to suggest the meaning of another. In the post-70 era, the repeated reference to 'fruit[s]' in a parable including a hedge, tower and winepress and susceptible of being considered an explanation for the end of the Temple is sufficient to enable an audience of Jewish background to recall the kais - kes wordplay in Amos.

There is no question Matthew also intends the three vineyard parables and the Parable of the Wedding Guests to be about the legitimation of the separation of his community from Judaism. These parables show signs of the crisis of the schism between new Jewish Christianity and old Judaism. This is consistent with Matthew's strident polemics against the Jews. Many scholars have noted that it is necessary to examine the referent prior to assuming that 'the you' of the Jewish leaders has become the Jewish people. However with Matthew's strident polemics, it is easy to see that Matthew has already made that connection.

Bock erroneously states that 'The appeal to a pattern of slaying the prophets shows the tenants picture the whole nation, not just its leaders... To restricts the tenants to leaders alone is too narrow.' In point of fact, as Bock noted several pages earlier, 'Luke is alone in having only the son slain.' There is a pattern of slaying of prophets in both the Matthean and Marcan versions of the parable which Luke lacks. Likewise, there are no senseless killings in the Lucan version of the Parable of the Wedding Guests.

More importantly Bock and those who interpret the Lucan version to include the Jewish people in the condemnation ignore not only the explicit language that the chief priests knew that the parable had been told 'against them' but more importantly 'they feared the people.' However the Matthean version of the parable supports such an interpretation since Matthew has included

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits thereof,”

which Luke lacks.

The existence of the fruits theology, which is lacking in Luke, is evidence of the dating of this gospel subsequent to the destruction of the Temple. This is not generally disputed. The displacement theology evident in the Parable as reported by the Gospel of Matthew is evidence of its late dating, perhaps the end of the first century CE. It is also evidence that the gospel was prepared for a Jewish audience that would understand the significance of the repetition of fruits and its assonance and the allusion to Amos.

Copyrighted 2006


Post a Comment

<< Home