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From the First ‘Servant Song’ to a “Son–Servant” Christology

We have seen that in 12, 18 – 21, Matthew quotes Is 42, 1– 4 the first ‘Servant Song’ of
Isaiah, but not faithfully to the original text, and differing both from the Masoretic Text and the
Septuagint. The expression “creative interpreter” seems to be exact as far as Matthew is concerned.
Thus the text Mt 12, 18 – 21, ‘conflated’ by Matthew, is thus not accidental, but obviously
intentional. The last part of our study clarifies the ‘interconnectedness’ between the Matthean text
and its context1. In Matthew’s Gospel a considerable number of emphases are apparent from which
one can recognize some of the issues of the times, or to put it in other words; the “Sitz im leben der
Kirche” can indirectly be recognized in the “Sitz im leben Jesu’ as described in the Gospel material.
The Gospel therefore has a double meaning functioning on two levels. It tells the story of Jesus, but
in such a way that the story of the Matthean community can also be recognized in it. The past story
of Jesus and his disciples includes the story of the community’s experience. Thus the ‘Matthean
Jesus’ serves as a “transparency” for the reader to look into the Matthean community and its
identity, attitudes and behaviour. The exegetical analysis of Mt 12, 18 – 21 and its context helps us
to understand the Matthean intentions of this central fulfilment quotation, namely to introduce his
Jesus and through his Jesus, his community to his reader. By quoting Is 42, 1 – 4 as a fulfilment
quotation in 12, 18 – 21, Matthew identifies his Jesus as “Son–Servant” and explains ‘his mission’
and the modality for realizing this mission. Among the four ‘Servant Songs’: Is 41, 1 – 4; 49, 1 – 6;
50, 4 –11; 52, 13 – 53, he chose the first, which expresses at the same time the vocation and the
identity of the Son of God. In the first part, we identify Matthew’s Jesus. Then we can discover the
Matthean community and the ecclesiological message of the Gospel by reading into ‘his’ Jesus

3.1 The Jesus of the Matthean Community

The face of Jesus in Matthew stands out, in contrast to that presented by other Gospels. This
is not to say that the four gospels have nothing in common. But there are differences in the

Elliot calls this type of verifying the interconnectedness between the text and the context as “Social-Scientific
criticism” which considers the text, ‘both as a reflection of and a response to the social and cultural settings in
which the text was produced.’ John Huxtable ELLIOT, Social-Scientific Criticism of the New Testament: An
Introduction, London, SPCK, 1995, p. 8.
presentation of Jesus. To establish the originality of Matthew’s Christology, we will analyze the titles
and terms used by Matthew to refer to Jesus. It is clear that when he cites Isaiah, he does not
reproduce any of the known sources; it seems he replaces the text of Isaiah from its source text in
several ways that the Christian tradition bequeathed him such as those pronounced by the heavenly
voice at the time of the Baptism and Transfiguration of Jesus. As we have seen in the studies of the
structure of the pericope, we have remarked that there are three dimensions in the vocation of the
“Son–Servant”: his identity (12, 18a, b) his mode of action (12, 19 – 20a) and his mission (12,18c and
18b). We will elucidate the Matthean Jesus according to these three dimensions.

3.1.1 The Identity of Matthean Jesus

The terms chosen by Matthew that attracted our attentions during the exegetic analysis of
this quotation will guide us to discover Matthew’s Jesus. The “Son–Servant”

Apparently, the events in the life of Jesus to which the fulfilment quotation gives meaning
are those that have been narrated in the context of this quotation. Jesus introduces himself as
“prau<j”, invites the crowd to take ‘his yoke’ (interpretation of the Law giving importance to mercy),
withdraws from the violent decision of the Pharisees to destroy him, meanwhile he lets the crowd
follow him and continues to cure the sick. This very approach of Jesus, of meekness filled with
compassion is what Matthew elucidates by quoting Isaiah: Jesus is the “pai/j” Son–Servant.

Verses 18a – c recalls explicitly the election of “Son–Servant” as is pointed out by God in the
book of Isaiah. That is the only time, in Matthew’s Gospel, where this term is used to refer to Jesus.
He combines the idea of docility with that of filiation, by selecting “pai/j” which means son2 and
servant at the same time.

The term pai/j etymologically means “small,” “little” and thus usually is used for “young boy”. We can see this
meaning in Mt 2, 16; 17, 18 and in Lk 2, 43 and Acts 20, 12. As a result it is generally used to refer the descent,
By choosing this word, Matthew manifests his intention to present Jesus with the dual role
of son and servant. He employs three main expressions to speak of divine filiations of Jesus : 1 “My
Son” when God speaks through the prophets or through a heavenly voice (2, 15; 3, 17; 17, 5) ; 2
“Son of God” when Jesus is designated by a third person ; Satan (4, 3 and 6), demoniac (8, 29),
disciples (14, 33), Peter (16,16), the high priest (26, 63), passers-by and Jewish leaders on Calvary
(27, 40. 43) and finally by the centurion and guards (27, 54 ) 3. “The Son”, this title, Jesus himself
uses in certain circumstances (11, 27; 24, 36 and 28, 19). In saying “No one knows the Son but the
Father (11, 27), Jesus assures that the Father revealed him as Son. This is confirmed by the
manifestation of 12, 18. As we have noticed several times, this manifestation has been attested in
Matthew by the scenes of baptism and transfiguration. In this gospel, the filial condition of Jesus is
at first publicly exposed by the word of God who calls and reveals him as “My Son”. It is then only
that we can notice that he is confessed by men who proclaim him “Son of God”. It is finally
confirmed by Jesus who designates himself as Son. In the pericope of Peter’s profession of faith (16,
173), three types of expressions of divine filiation are present: after the Father’s revelation, Peter
confesses that Jesus is the son of God, which Jesus confirms while speaking of the revelation by his

While Matthew gives importance to the title of Son in his gospel Mark rarely uses this title:
in fact his entire Gospel prepares us to proclaim it, with the centurion at the foot of the cross. He
wants to take us to a gradual discovery of faith, while Matthew places himself deliberately in a
Christian community where the word “Son of God” has always held a very strong meaning for us. He
wants us to approach and sense ‘this man’ very similar to us, and the mystery that he bears in him:
when we are distraught, we should shout out just like the disciples in the tempest (14, 33); we
should proclaim him like Peter, when we are asked questions about his identity (16, 16); we should,
as the pagan guards, recognize him on the cross (27, 54).

In the Old Testament, the title, Son of God designates Israel, the child that God has chosen
to enter into an alliance with Him: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and called him out of Egypt
as my son” (Hos 11, 1). Matthew places the fulfilment of this text in Jesus after the Holy Family’s
stay in Egypt due to Herod’s persecution (Mt 2, 15). Here in this fulfilment quotation (12, 18 – 21),

“son” (Mt 8, 6; 8, 13). However in Lk 8, 51 and 54 this term is used to indicate “young girl”, while Matthew
consistently uses pai/j to indicate boy/child. It can also refer to a social position, “servant,” “slave”. And it is
remarkable to notice that in Mt 8, 16 – 13, “pai/j” is interchanged with “dou/loj”.
Mt 16, 17b: “because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven”
by choosing the word “pai/j” for Jesus, Matthew does not follow the identification of servant that
we find in the Septuagint as Iakwb and Israhl. For Matthew, pai/j Israhl from now onwards is
Jesus. The Matthean Jesus assumes the vocation and the destiny of Israel.

But for Matthew, Jesus will not realize this Kingdom which he proclaimed, neither as a
warrior nor in a glorious way as we expected, because, he came to “diakone,w” serve (Mt 20, 28). In
selecting the term “pai/j”, Matthew designates Jesus as “dou/loj” (Mt 20, 27), whose priority is to
serve. Even though he is Son of God, he is a servant4. In Jesus, the contrast and the difference
between “Lord” and “Servant” has disappeared. Verse 18 reminds us that servant is identical to the
Son revealed in the Jordan. The Son of God chose to immerse himself in his creation taking human
form, the forma servi. He chose to become Servant and fulfilled his vocation as the obedient
Servant until the end, unto his passion and death. Figure of Messiah

Throughout his gospel, Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah that Jewish people were
waiting for, particularly by his use of fulfilment quotations. And we have remarked that Matthew
quotes the Old Testament more than any evangelist to present his Jesus in line with the promised
Messiah. Let us explore Matthew’s use of certain specific terms to highlight the Messianic character
in this particular fulfilment quotation. by the Spirit

Through the designation of Jesus as “Son–Servant5” who was given the “Spirit”, Matthew
takes the reader to the annunciation of Joseph (1, 18 – 21) and to the episode of baptism (3, 13 –
17)6. At the very beginning of the narration, Matthew informs the reader through the annunciation
to Joseph that Jesus is born out of the Holy Spirit (1, 20c7), and the Spirit came upon him before the

Mt 20, 28: “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. Here
Matthew parallels “Son of Man” with “to serve”
The term “Servant of God” itself is a title of the Messiah. In the Old Testament the Messiah is called “My
Servant” outside the Isaian Texts (Ezek 34, 23; 37, 24; Zech 3, 8).
Mt Mt 3, 17 seems to be the result of the combination of the Ps 2, 7 “You are my son; today I have begotten
you”, and of Is 42, 1: “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights”
Mt 1, 20c reads, “to. ga.r evn auvth/| gennhqe.n evk pneu,mato,j evstin a`gi,ou” for that which is conceived in her is of
the Holy Spirit.
start of his proclamation of the Kingdom, and this gift which he received upon baptism8 led him to
encounter the devil’s temptation in a combat where he comes out victorious (Mt 4, 1 –11). So
Matthew wants to present his reader in 12, 18b with a Jesus who is anointed by the Spirit, the
Messiah promised in Is 61, 1 and in 42, 1b. Similarly, Is 11, 1 – 9 teaches principally that the Davidic
Messiah will be filled by the prophetic Spirit. This context suggests that upon his baptism Jesus has
received the Spirit just as the Messiah, but in 12, 18, the same affirmation is repeated in regard to
his mission: the meek “Son–Servant” announces justice/judgment to the nations by the Spirit9. In the Lineage of Solomon

Another title which is applied to the Messiah is “ui`ou/ Daui,d” Son of David. This title points
towards the promises made to David in 2 Sam 7, 12 – 16 and 1 Chr 17, 3 – 14: “I will raise up your
offspring after you. I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name. I will establish
the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. I will not take my
steadfast love from him. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me;
your throne shall be established forever”. Thus “ui`ou/ Daui,d” Son of David ‘expectation’ of the
Messiah was very prominent in Jewish tradition. The name “Daui,d” appears five times more than
anybody in Matthean genealogy beginning with the phrase the Genealogy of Jesus, the Son of
David… Further the title “ui`ou/ Daui,d” occurs eight times in the Gospel of Matthew. In five out of
these eight occurrences, it occurs in healing contexts (9, 27; 12, 23; 15, 22; 20, 30. 31). Allison–
Davies and Kazhuthadiyil observe that the occurrence of this title in relation to healings, especially
to exorcisms alludes to Solomon, the “Son of David”, who was selected to build the Temple and was
later renowned as a mighty healer.

In addition, in the analysis of our fulfilment quotation we have noticed the presence of the
verb “ai`reti,zw”, and its occurrence only once in Matthew, pointing to a hapax legomenon reading.
This hapax legomenon invites us to see its inter–textual relations: by verifying the occurrence of this
verb “ai`reti,zw” in the Chronicler to find its signification. As noticed earlier, 1 Ch. 28, 4. 6. 10 and 29,
1 bring together its four usages. The scene is nothing else than David’s will to establish Solomon as

The Judeo-Christian sect heresies of Ebonite had their centre somewhere to the east of the Jordan. In their
Christology, the divine filiation is not based upon the exceptional birth of Jesus but upon the union of the Holy
Spirit with him during his baptism.
This verse is repeated a third time in the narration of the Transfiguration because it is by the same Spirit that
Jesus prepares for his passion and Resurrection.
his successor in charge of building the temple. In this episode, the Septuagint uses the method of
double translation, altering evkle,gomai and ai`reti,zw for a single verb rxb of the Masoretic Text–
evkle,gomai for the simple idea of selection, ai`reti,zw for the particular relation of the King with God
and the privileged sign of this relation: the plan of the building of the temple. The highlight
produced by this scene to the son of David could encourage the Evangelist to choose a verb
ai`reti,zw in preference to evkle,gomai, due to the Solomonian context and evokes the messianic
interpretation of the figure of Son of David as applied to Jesus.

Solomon, son of David of the first generation, had left among the people the memory of an
efficient exorcist (Wisdom 7, 20), at the same time is it not surprising to call upon a miracle–worker
honouring him with prestigious titles given only to wise kings; Antiquity likes mixing up different
times, and honouring someone by addressing him as a glorious hero of the past10. The people
waited for a Davidic Messiah with the same charisma of exorcism. In the same way, to specify the
Solomonic character of Matthean Jesus, the crowd after witnessing an exorcism just after this
fulfilment quotation11, asks: “is he not the son of David?” (12, 23). In the following episode and in
the same chapter, we observe a further mentioning of this character: “kai. ivdou. plei/on Solomw/noj
w–de” something greater than Solomon is here (12, 42).

In the context of this fulfilment quotation, 12, 6, we read “ o[ti tou/ i`erou/ mei/zo,n evstin w–de”
here there is something greater than the temple. David established Solomon as successor, in charge
of building the Temple. Here in this context we find the term ai`reti,zw for the election of Solomon.
By introducing the verb ai`reti,zw for Jesus in Mt 12, 18, Matthew presents us with a Jesus who is
chosen by God in the lineage of Solomon to announce justice/judgment to nations with success. In
the same way by presenting Jesus in the lineage of Solomon, he would have had the intention of
emphasizing the designation of Jesus as David’s son. This notion added to that of anointment by the
Spirit, confirms the figure of Messiah attributed to Jesus by Matthew.

the presence of Solomon in the first Gospel is not negligible, although quite scattered. The king himself is
named four times (1, 6. 7; 6, 29; 12, 42).We remark that in the Genealogy Narratives, Jesus is the Son of David
by Solomon in Matthew (Mt 1, 6. 7), whereas he is through Nathan, elder brother of Solomon, in Luke (Lk 3,
21). Dennis C. DULLING, “The Therapeutic Son of David,” N S 24, (1977 – 78), pp. 392 – 410.
We have remarked that the fulfilment quotation and the following episode of healing a demoniac, is well
connected by the verb “evkba,llw” and the remark to the “Holy Spirit”
6 God’s Isaac

As we have already seen, the use of avgaphto,j, takes us to the figure of Isaac12. In fact, we
find him in Gen 22, 2, in the scene of Isaac’s sacrifice; Matthew’s selection might have been
influenced by this verse from the Genesis. Since, Isaac is avgaphto,j , he is subjected to the will of his
father Abraham in utmost trust, right unto sacrificing his life. We can build up a “theology of
Kenosis” with the symbol of Isaac.

Jesus is the “Kenotic–Son” like Isaac.The Christology of the New Testament presents Jesus as
the Servant who humbled himself. Saint Paul says explicitly that the Son of God annihilated himself,
assumed the condition of a slave, without ceasing to be the Unique “loved one” of the Father (Phil
2, 7 – 8). Luz suggests that in calling Jesus “Son of Abraham”, Jesus resembles Abraham in his
obedience. The life of Jesus testifies to a supreme obedience to the will of God, until the cross. By
introducing avgaphto,j in the fulfilment quotation 12, 18 – 21, Matthew presents us with a “Kenotic”
Christology. The phrase avgaphto,j mou in this quotation, is explicitly connected with the threat to the
life of Jesus: the Pharisees decided to kill him (12, 14).

According to Ph. 2, 6 – 11, by the Kenosis, Jesus did not cling to the equality with God;
without losing “the form of God”, he took the form of “slave or servant” and it is certain that in this
secondary state he was not in the divine majestic condition, but in the humility of the real and
complete human condition. This is the essential moment of the Kenosis. But the text points out
clearly the progress of this demeaning during the passion: God’s will is fully accomplished on the
cross. That’s why the name that God gave him and by which the whole creation confesses Him as
“Lord”, which signifies the same name that the Jewish people pronounced when they wanted to
invoke Yahweh, and in whom the first Christian community recognize Christ by adoring him. The
contrast between “Lord” and “Servant” disappeared in Jesus Christ. At the end of his personal
history, fully confirmed to the will of the Father, but freely chosen, Jesus finds in his being the

R. Pesch and Kazhuthadiyil observe that the birth announcement of Jesus (Mt 1, 18 – 25) is made in line with
the ‘Isaac typology’ (Gen 11, 30). The birth of the Messiah is prefigured in Isaac’s miraculous birth (Rudolf
PESCH, “‘He will be called a Nazorean’: Messianic Exegesis in Matthew 1 – 2,” in Craig A. EVANS and
William Richard STEGNER, (eds.), The Gospels and the Scriptures of Israel, Sheffield, Sheffield Academic
Press, 1994, p. 140; Matthew KAZHUTHADIYIL, “Jesus Christ: The Son of David, The Son of Abraham”: The
meaning and function of Genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel, an Exegetico Theological Study on Mt, 1, 1 – 17,
Extractum ex dissertatione ad Doctoratum in Facultate theologiae, Rome, Pontifica Universitas Greogoriana,
2009, pp. 50 – 51.
fulfilment of the divine glory that he had renamed in his becoming Kenosis. He wanted to attain
glory not essentially by triumphant means of glory, but through being a Kenosis. Thus, by the title
avgaphto,j, he becomes the Isaac of God. Isaac the Son of Abraham

Being Isaac, Jesus assumes in his person the title of “VIhsou/ Cristou/ ui`ou/ Daui.d ui`ou/
VAbraa,m” Jesus Christ, Son of Abraham. This title recalls the vocation of Abraham and the promise of
God in Gen 17, 1 – 21. The divine promise in Gn. 12, 1 – 3 and in 15, 1 – 6, are reiterated here in this
passage By identifying Jesus as “Son of Abraham”, Matthew presents Jesus as descendant from
Abraham, a true Israelite. Kazhuthadiyil observes “According to Jewish understanding, to descend
from “~h'êr"b.a;” was the foundation of the people of God”. The wording in Mt 3, 9 is remarkable :
“evgei/rai te,kna tw/| VAbraa,m” refers to raising up children for Abraham and it alludes to the
fulfilment of promises made in Gen 15, 1 – 16 and in 17, 1 – 21. Here in this fulfilment quotation,
Matthew by preferring the term avgaphto,j13 and relating the mission of announcing Justice to the
nations, recalls to his readers the story of Isaac, the “son of Abraham” and highlights the fulfilment
of these promises made to Abraham, in Jesus. In Jesus the promise made to Abraham comes to its

As Jesus is called “Son of David” and “Son of Abraham”, a significant question arises
concerning the order of these two titles here in this quotation and at the beginning of the Gospel (1,
1). The titles “Son of David” and “Son of Abraham”, come at the beginning of the Gospel of
Matthew as two titular designations specifying two Christological categories of the greatest import:
Christ (Son of David), and Isaac (son of Abraham). It is interesting to remark why Matthew names
Jesus as the “Son of David” prior to the title “Son of Abraham”. The answer may be simply that
Matthew thinks naming Abraham second provides a useful transition to the list of descendants
beginning with Isaac. Matthew knows he is telling the story of one that was born king, yet a king to
be sacrificed. God had tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac. By beginning with
“Son of David” Matthew prepares us to recognize that this is a king who will end up on the cross.
According to Levenson, “within the overall structure of the Gospel…the two vocabularies of sonship,

As we have noticed in the analysis chapter, instead of “o` evklekto,j mou” of Is 42, 1 (Septuagint), Matthew
opted for “o` avgaphto,j mou”. This term recalls the Isaac story in Gen 22, 2 “to.n ui`o,n sou to.n avgaphto,n o]n
hvga,phsaj to.n Isaak” and Gen 22, 12 “tou/ ui`ou/ sou tou/ avgaphtou/ diV evme,” your son, your only son, from me.
that of the beloved son and that of the Davidic king as the son of God, reinforce each other
powerfully. They yield a story in which the rejection, suffering and death of the putatively Davidic
figure is made to confirm rather than contradict (Jesus) status as God’s only begotten Son” Though
this position is plausible, there arises another possible interpretation which seems to be apt for the
context: Matthean Jesus’ primary vocation is without doubt for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
The rejection by Israel caused the universal mission to be a second phase of Jesus’ mission. 14 ‘Emmanuel’ God with Us

All through the gospel of Matthew, God is with men in the person of Jesus. At the end of the
Gospel, the words of Jesus: “I will be with you…” (Mt 28, 20) provide an echo to the fulfilment
quotation of the very beginning of this Gospel. In Mt 1, 22 – 23 in the very first fulfilment quotation
of the Gospel: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, a virgin
shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us).
And as the last words in the final instruction given by the Risen Jesus to his disciples, moreover, as
the words that end the Gospel, are narrated in this small phrase: “And remember, I am with you
always, to the end of the age” (28, 20). Thus, these two passages, 1, 23 and 28, 20 assume a crucial
position in Matthew’s Gospel: beginning and end.

In 12, 18 – 21, by inserting a fulfilment quotation in the middle of his Gospel, Matthew
presents us with a ‘Jesus Emmanuel’ of all the nations. According to Jean Miler, various clues invite
us to explore Matthew’s identification of ‘Jesus Emmanuel’ in and through the context of this
fulfilment quotation. In the verse 1, 23 we read, “kai. kale,sousin to. o;noma auvtou/ VEmmanouh,l( o[
evstin meqermhneuo,menon meqV h`mw/n o` qeo,jÅ” and that his name shall be called Emmanuel – this
name signifies “God is with us”. The term o;noma name is taken over at the end of our fulfilment
quotation, in verse 21: kai. tw/| ovno,mati auvtou/ e;qnh evlpiou/sin “in his name the nations will hope”.
The association made between Jesus’ name and Emmanuel by Matthew seems to be intentional.

This tension between particularism and universalism is present all throughout the Gospel. Israel’s rejection
and an ‘opening’ as a result to the Gentile well narrated in Matthean Gospel. Matthean Jesus inaugurates a
universal mission, which is not exclusive but inclusive.
In 12, 21, Matthew follows the Greek version that interprets the “coastlands” by “nations”:
“And the nations will hope in his name”. We read in Ph. 2, 9 – 10 God gave him the name. In the
name of whom the whole world will hope, to be saved. In Rom 10, 13 it reads, “Everyone who calls
upon the name of the Lord will be saved”. As Jean Miler stated, the use of the term “o;noma” name
seems to be very much linked to Mt 1, 23, where we find the first mention of this term which is
related to Jesus. Because Jesus “will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1, 21) and is Emmanuel,
“God with us” (Mt 1, 23). Matthew takes his reader to 1, 21 and 23 via 12, 21. The finale of the
Gospel opens upon the future of the ‘announcement to the Nations’ and the ‘abiding presence of
Jesus’ with his disciples, who had received all the powers. The reference of the personal pronoun
“u`mw/n” You in the affirmation “I will be with you” (Mt 28, 20) exceeds, of course, the group of
Eleven to include those that would follow in becoming his disciples. Jesus assures them indeed of
his presence forever. The authority vested in him and the promise to maintain his presence
inaugurates the mission towards the nations. The words of the Risen One, which are rarely pointed
out, invite the reader to remember the teachings of Jesus and, to know his teachings is to re–read
the Gospel. His promise of abiding presence with his disciples inspires re–reading the Gospel to
realise how the disciples experienced this abiding presence of Jesus, when he was with them. His
command to teach the new disciples all that he had prescribed to them, leads us to understand all
that his being with his disciples implies as a requirement. The final commissioning then thus asks for
a second reading of the Gospel which gives attention to the teachings of the earthly Jesus. The
theme of the Matthean narration is thus God’s being–with–us in Jesus of Nazareth. In other words,
by narrating the vocation of Jesus, Matthew wants to show that the God of Israel is with us: the
manifestation of the saving and transforming presence of God, as the centre of the history, revealed
in the life and the resurrection of Jesus.

We have thus shown that for Matthew, Jesus is the fulfilment of many of the great figures
of the Old Testament: the “Son–Servant”, the Messiah, Isaac, Emmanuel. Tassin observes precisely
“This fulfillment quotation therefore has an incomparable value. It condenses in a few terms the
profound identity of Jesus. Beyond the titles given to him, Son of David and Son of God, Jesus
reveals God himself and His project. In him, God reveals himself in his innermost intentions”. The
use of this fulfilment quotation, on one hand loyal to the Old Testament texts and on the other, the
freedom of Matthew’s translation, underlines the continuity of Israel’s history as well as the radical
newness of Jesus.

3.1.2 The Modality of Jesus’ Action: Meek “Son–Servant” The “pai/j” with “prau<thj” Meekness

As we have remarked, in the Gospels, the term “prau<j” occurs in Mt 5, 5; 11, 29 and 21, 5,
which shows that it is an essential and differentiating term of Matthew from other Evangelists to
present his Jesus and his community. The long fulfilment quotation 12, 18 – 21 and its context
starting from Mt 11, 25 clarifies and strengthens the significance of the attitude and actions of
Jesus with “prau<thj” meekness. Jesus invites his disciples “to learn” that he is “prau<j”.

Being “prau<j” meek is morally contrasted with anger. Here it is remarkable to notice a
deliberate omission by Matthew in the context which directly leads to this fulfilment quotation. In
the second controversy on the healing on the Sabbath, the Markan Jesus annoyed by the reaction
and the heartlessness of Pharisees looks at the Pharisees with anger. In Mk 3, 5 we read, “looking
around at them with anger” metV ovrgh/j, while Matthew deliberately omits this reaction “metV ovrgh/j”
with anger which is the very opposite to the character of meekness, presumably to present his
Jesus, who is “prau<j”.

“prau<thj” meekness is very much linked to acting with compassion. In the first Sabbath
controversy, Jesus interprets the Law giving importance to e;leoj mercy, the occurrence of which is
absent in the Sabbath controversies found in other Gospels. In Matthean narration, the concept of
e;leoj mercy is deliberately introduced in his controversy story, seemingly to present his Jesus in line
with Mt 11, 29, where he is introduced as Jesus “prau<j”. Thus the quality “e;leoj mercy” is explained
in Jesus’ interpretation of the Law and in the following Sabbath controversy by healing the man with
the withered hand and further these acts of mercy continue in the healing of the crowd who
followed him (12, 15) with this quality further highlighted in the fulfilment quotation 12, 20ab.

Being “prau<j” meek is totally contrary to violence. On the one side, the Pharisees’ plot to
destroy Jesus and on the other side having known that the Pharisees were plotting against him
(v.14), Jesus’ decision to withdraw (v. 15a), obviously clarifies Jesus’ attitude, since He is “amazed by
his meekness and non–resistance to the ‘powerful’ of the time. The Servant is not a violent […]”. On
the other hand, it is not only the attitude of Jesus towards the Pharisees that shows his meekness
but also his actions towards the crowd after the withdrawal in the face of violence (v.15b): “the
crowd follows him and he heals them all”. In the place where the Pharisees desired to inflict
violence on Jesus, Jesus responds by manifesting his meekness. The healing of the crowd shows his
understanding, his kindness and his compassion that are as much the qualities of heart that outflow
from his meekness. The quotation from Isaiah, where the Servant of God is presented as meek,
gives all its significance to Jesus’ attitude towards the plotting Pharisees and his kind action towards
the crowd. The meekness of the Servant of God in some way confirms that of Jesus who resists evil
with non-violence and manifests meekness towards the crowd in need.

In the fulfilment quotation, Matthew highlights the modality of action of “Son–

Servant” as “meek” in verses 19 – 20a. In the analysis of these verses, we have observed, Matthew
has made so many modifications and choices of words and categorically negated the violent terms,
presenting Jesus as meek, thus underlining His character of non-violence and compassion: “ouvk
evri,sei ouvde. krauga,sei( ouvde. avkou,sei tij evn tai/j platei,aij th.n fwnh.n auvtou” He will not quarrel,
nor cry out; Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. And the attitude of compassion is well
focused by presenting the imageries of broken reed and smouldering wick in 12, 20ab: who does
not crush a broken reed nor extinguish a smouldering wick. By all evidence, by the choice of the
words Matthew wished to bring out the meekness of the “Son–Servant”, focusing on non–violent
and compassionate attitudes.

Thus as we have seen earlier, these verses 12, 19 and 20ab are related to the verses 11, 29
and 21, 5. The Jewish people were waiting for Jesus a warrior Messiah, like a king in David’s lineage.
By the narration of 11, 29, 12, 18 – 21and 21, 5, however Matthew presents us with a Jesus who
describes himself as “prau<j” meek. From the Oracle of Zechariah (9, 9), he retained the
announcement of the arrival of a meek King Messiah full of humanity, humble and without
ostentation, riding on a donkey; a modest mount is implicitly opposed to a horse, mounted by a
warrior. He did not take over the prophecy of Zechariah as it is, i. e. the description of the modality
of the king and his dominant character, but emphasizes his meekness. Jesus is a King but, he says, a
King whose main character is to be meek. The omission of the terms “just and savior” which, as we
have seen, focuses our attention on the adjective “meek”. This character is further strengthened by
the image of the double mounting that emphasizes the contrast between the meekness of the King
announced by the prophet and the violence of a warrior king.

The meekness of Jesus is to be considered as essentially opposed to violence; it is a
disposition of the heart which is defined by the refusal to impose on others a hard way that would
impose prejudices when those who suffer have no recourse; it also consists in searching out to do
good to those unfortunate, the poor, the overwhelmed, which reveals the Christological depth of
the identity of the one we were waiting for (Mt 11, 3). The description of Servant of God as it is
applied to Jesus by Matthew makes one find in him meekness, whose main features are patience,
understanding and compassion, refusal to enter into a quarrel, non-violent resistance to evil and
the positive desire to do good in response to evil. Again it comes down to compassion and
magnanimity towards others.

3.1.3 The Mission of the “Son–Servant”

After having taken up the theme of the identity and the modality of the action of Jesus,
Matthew uses Is 42 to present the universal mission of Jesus. The context of this fulfilment
quotation 12, 18 – 21 makes us understand the refusal and blindness of the Pharisees. Their refusal
resulted in the rejection and the rejection reached its peak with the decision to destroy Jesus, which
resulted in the withdrawal of Jesus from there, to announce justice/judgment to the nations. In this
fulfilment quotation we read in verses 18c: he will announce justice to the nations and in 21; the
“nations” will put their hope in his name. According to Jean Miler, Matthew presents this theme of
universalism right at the beginning of his gospel by using his first fulfilment quotation. Matthew
articulates a graphic progress from his first fulfilment quotation up to the end of his Gospel in 28, 18
– 20, and the fulfilment quotation of 12, 18 – 21, serves as a middle point (hinge) in this
progression. In the first fulfilment quotation, the angel says to Joseph that Jesus will save his people
from their sins. In 1, 23, Matthew emphasizes that a group without defining its identity, will
recognize in Jesus, the presence of God. This group is defined in relation to the narrator and so we
can conclude that it consists of those who are not the descendants of Abraham. In 4, 14 –16, the
fulfilment quotation explicates the aim of the proclamation of the Kingdom by Jesus. This happens
in Galilee, which Matthew names the “Galilee of nations”15. For the author of the Gospel, Galilee is

From OT times, Galilee carried a negative connotation. Isaiah 9, 1 – 2 suggests that Galilee (the land of
Zebulun and Naphtali) was under contempt and it carried another name, Galilee of the Nations. Galilee was an
important place in the trade route coming from Egypt leading either to Syria or to Mesopotamia. It is through
Galilee that all the gentiles could pass. Therefore all the people living there were considered as impure by Jews.
In the Hellenistic times, there was a heavy population of Jews in Galilee (1 Macc 5, 23). During Jesus’ times,
those at Jerusalem looked down upon Galilee and the Galileans (Jn 7, 37 – 52). Luke also mentions that the
inhabitants of Jerusalem regarded Galilee as a backward locality (Acts 2, 7). Thus Galilee is an old merging
a symbol of universalism because it is, according to Isaiah 8, 23 and 9, 1, a place of God’s
manifestation to the Gentiles: “Galilee of nations…the people who were in darkness saw a great
light”. And further, the fulfilment quotation in 8, 17, due to its dual relationship to the episodes of
healing (8, 5 –13) and to the fourth ‘Servant song’ (Is 53) brings to light that the works of Jesus, the
Servant, crosses the limits of Israel to reach out to the nations. Without any ambiguity, but always
in an implicit way, the group to which the pronoun we refers, is composed of Jews and pagans.
Finally, the fulfilment quotation which is intentionally placed in the midst of the chapter of
controversies and rejection (12, 17 – 21) speaks in a very clear manner that the ministry of Jesus
concerns the nations.

Matthew emphasizes in the course of the narration everything that, in the life of Jesus,
anticipated or focused on a transition towards nations as the fulfilment accomplished on Israel. He
frequently uses many texts that speak of this opening up towards the Nations: in the Infancy
narrative, the magi came first to worship Jesus while Herod wanted to kill him and the Scribes had
no interest in him ( 2, 1 – 12); the summary of the activity of Jesus explicitly quotes several
countries ( 4, 23 – 25 ); he healed the servant of the centurion saying that he had not seen such
great faith in Israel (8, 5 – 13); Jesus healed the daughter of the Canaanite (15, 21 – 28). Finally,
after Easter, Jesus himself extended the good news to all the nations of the world (28, 16 – 18).

Matthew’s gospel begins by presenting Jesus as “ui`ou/ VAbraa,m” son of Abraham. Identified
as “ui`oj VAbraa,m” Jesus receives in his vocation, the vocation of Abraham (Gen 12, 2) to give
blessings to the nations “ kai. poih,sw se eivj e;qnoj me,ga = lAdêG" yAgæl. ‘^f.[,a,(w> ” I will make of thee a great
nation. This promise will be fulfilled by Jesus. By beginning his Gospel with the words “ui`ou/
VAbraa,m”, Matthew specifies the universal mission of Jesus. And in the fulfilment quotation under
study, He uses one special title “avgaphto,j” in 12, 18, the word that refers to Isaac the son of
Abraham16, in Gen 22, 2 and 12. These two titles link together the universal mission of Jesus and his
final commissioning to his disciples for a universal mission.

point between Jews and pagans. By making Galilee, the priority area for Jesus’ ministry, he fulfills the messianic
and universalist prophecy of Isaiah 8, 23 – 9, 1. Their fuzzy borders put the Israelites in relation to the pagan
territories around: in the north, the region of Tyre and of Sidon, Syrian Phoenicia (current Lebanon); in the south
east, the Decapolis (currently in Jordan). This could also be a reason why Jesus still chose to give a preference to
Galilee to begin the ministry, as it is characteristic of him to opt for the marginalised.
The word avgaphto,j is used for the first time to indicate Isaac (Gn.22,5) the son of Abraham.
3.2 Conclusion

Thus through the Matthean portrait of Jesus’ identity, he succeeded in presenting to his
reader the novelty aroused in the person of ‘his’ Jesus. By observing the modality of his actions and
the significance that he gives to his mission, the reader can discover the originality of his vocation.

But the ‘placement’ of this direct Christological quotation in a context of different reactions
of the Pharisees and the crowd raises some significant issues: After the discourse on the mission, on
one side, it is rejected by the Pharisees; on the other, the crowd follows and becomes the part of
the real family of Jesus. Therefore, after the discourse on the mission, is it only Jesus who is put in
place? Or, through him, does the community confront the Pharisees concerning the interpretation
of the Jewish tradition? Is it this Jesus or the Matthean community who comes into confrontation
with the Pharisees, concerning the interpretation of the law and the Jewish tradition? These
questions will guide us to see the significance of this Christological quotation in a context of
conflicts and in the midst of rejection and appraisal in the next chapter.

4. Reading of the First “Servant Song” and the Vocation of the

Matthean Community

According to Michel Quesnel, it is difficult to separate Matthean Christology from its

Ecclesiology. There was even a great debate among the exegetes whether Matthew’s narration is
more Christological than ecclesiological, or vice versa; many of them refused to ask this question.
For us, by presenting his Christology, Matthew calls his reader to discover his community.
According to U. Ulrich “For both Matthew and Mark the story of Jesus is a transparent– that is,
inclusive – story for the Church’s own situation”. Repschinski argues that the evangelist’s
community is behind these stories of controversy and opposition in the Gospel. In chapter 12 the
Matthean development of the Markan source as we have noticed earlier, points that “Sitz im
Leben” of these stories was for Matthew, very much within the life of the community. Thus, through
this fulfilment quotation, Matthew presents his Jesus, meek “Son–Servant” and equally defines the
identity and the vocation of his community that is in conflict with the synagogue and assumes the

destiny and vocation of Israel. That is the reason why, Matthew places his story in a context of
confrontation and conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Thus, through Jesus what we see is the
Matthean community which is in confrontation with the Pharisees. By criticizing the practices and
ethics of the latter, Matthew defines its identity and its vocation.

4.1 A Transition from “sunagwgh.n auvtw/n” Their Synagogue to

“evkklhsi,a mou” My Church

Israel’s rejection of Jesus comes to a culminating point in this quotation. Through chapters
11 and 12, Matthew narrates the theme of Israel’s rejection which prevails especially in the context
of our fulfilment quotation (Mt 12, 1 – 14). We have already remarked that there is subtle
difference between the plot passages in Mt 12, 14 – 16 and in Mk 3, 7 – 10: in Mark we read
avnecw,rhsen pro.j th.n qa,lassan withdrew to the sea. And in Matthew we read, avnecw,rhsen evkei/qen
withdrew from there. The term “from there” seems to have a direct connection with the term
sunagwgh.n auvtw/n their Synagogue in Mt 12, 9. The addition auvtw/n with Synagogue is absent in
Mark. So the Matthean redaction points to a clear turning away, and by adding the word “gnou.j”
knowing (the Pharisees plan to kill him) before avnecw,rhsen, Matthew directly accuses the Pharisees’
responsibility for this separation.

In addition, there are three more withdrawal sequences of Jesus in the Matthean narrative:
14, 13; 15, 21 and 16, 4 each withdrawal culminating in the formation of communities and their
faith proclamation. In 14, 13 hearing the martyrdom of John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew from there,
the crowd followed him and he felt compassion for them, and healed their sick, which is the same
as we see in 12, 14, Thereafter Jesus multiplies the loaves of bread. The role of the disciples in this
multiplication episode is well established: Jesus constitutes his disciples into a “Eucharistic
community” in which the Twelve have a special role (14, 15. 19). And the passage of walking on the
sea (14, 22 – 33) that follows the multiplication, again involves Jesus and his disciples, in which Jesus
transforms his disciples into a faith community. At the end of the passage the disciples bowed down
before Jesus saying “Truly, you are the Son of God”.

In 15, 21 the withdrawal of Jesus shows the intensity of the withdrawal by the double
mentioning of evxelqw.n evkei/qen went away from there and avnecw,rhsen withdrew. As a result of the
conflict with the Pharisees over ritual purity (15, 1 – 20), Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and
Sidon, a Gentile territory, where he extols the faith of a Canaanite woman and heals her daughter.
The following passage narrates the healing on the hills of the Gentile territories: “And great crowds
came to him…, and he healed them” (15, 29 – 31). At the end of this passage the Gentiles glorified
the God of Israel (15, 31). After the disciples, here the Gentiles seem to be included in the faith

Finally, in 16, 4 Jesus withdraws after refusing the Pharisees and Scribes a sign and
comparing them with the ‘adulterous generation’. And Jesus cautions his disciples against the
‘leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16, 5 –12). The leaven is the teaching of the Pharisees. Thus
disciples are warned about misleading teachings. This caution is followed by Peter’s confession of
Christ as the Messiah, the son of the living God and the response of Jesus is the foundation of the
evkklhsi,a (16, 13 – 20). The word “evkklhsi,a” Church occurs, among the four Gospels only in
Matthew (16, 18 and 18, 17). And further we have to notice the genitive pronoun personal mou
given as an attribute to evkklhsi,a my Church (16, 18). In this verse, Jesus reference to ‘my Church’ is
very significant, where the pronoun, preceding the noun in the Greek, is emphatic: “mou th.n
evkklhsi,an” my Church. The first withdrawal is marked by the presence of another pronoun auvtw/n
‘their’ with sunagwgh.n: A withdrawal from auvtou.j them (16, 4) and sunagwgh.n auvtw/n (12, 9) their
synagogue towards evkklhsi,a mou (16, 18).

4.2 Refusal of Pharisees – Refusal of Israel

Frank Matera states that “Matthew’s Gospel can be read as a story whose plot concerns
Israel’s rejection of the Messiah and the consequent movement of the Gospel to the Gentiles”. In
the context of our narration we find the confrontations and conflicts between Jesus and the
Pharisees17. Jesus asks the crowds who are struggling and burdened to get away from the Pharisees,
because of their wrong interpretation of the Law, which becomes an unbearable burden for those

The Pharisees are mentioned twenty times in Matthew’s Gospel: 3, 7; 5, 20; 7, 29; 9, 11. 14. 34; 12, 2. 14. 24.
38; 15, 1. 12; 16, 1. 6. 11. 12; 19, 3; 21, 45; 22, 15. 34. 41, 23, 2. 13. 15. 26; 27, 62. They are characterized
negatively from the very first mentions, in 3, 7; 5, 20 and 7, 29. They dispute and polemicize with Jesus, in 9, 10
– 13; 12, 1 – 8. 38 – 42; 15, 1 – 9; 16, 1 – 4; 19, 2 – 9; 22, 34 – 35. (Pierre KEITH, « Les citations d'Osée 6:6
dans deux péricopes de l'Evangile de Matthieu (Mt 9: 9 – 13 et 12: 1 – 8) », in Eberhard BONS, (ed.), «Car c'est
l'amour qui me plait, non le sacrifice »: Recherches sur Osée 6:6 et son interprétation juive et chrétienne,
Leiden/Boston, Brill, [JSJSup, 88], 2004, p. 62).
they are supposed to guide (Mt 11, 28 – 30). Thus Matthew presents us with two episodes in Mt 12,
1 – 8 and 9 – 14, showing this conflict. In 12, 2, the Pharisees criticize indirectly and in a covert way
Jesus’ actions. His disciples cross the wheat field and as they were hungry they picked ears of corn
and ate. Their action was likened to a work which was prohibited on Sabbath, hence the Pharisees’
remark. Verses 6 and 7 specific to the Matthean redaction allude to the greatness and the authority
of Jesus, as well as to mercy as the expression of God’s will as opposed to the attitude of the
Pharisees. In the v. 7, Jesus reproaches the Pharisees with their incomprehension and their unfair
accusations. The reference to Hos. 6, 6 is absolutely clear. God’s mercy is of more value than
sacrifices. By accusing the innocent disciples, the Pharisees give more importance to the
prescriptions of the Sabbath rather than to God’s mercifulness.

In the following episode (9 – 14), Jesus enters their synagogue “eivj th.n sunagwgh.n auvtw/n”18
and he meets there a man with a withered hand. Matthew’s narration in comparison to that of Luke
(6, 6 –11) and of Mark (3, 1 – 5) is well structured: the question asked by Jesus comes out even
better: “can we heal a man on the Sabbath day?”. Jesus’ answer is a reasoning that is quite familiar
to the Rabbis of those days: if on a Sabbath day we can get an animal out of a deep hole, can we
save a man from danger, because a man is worth more than an animal. The sick man is healed, but
according to the conception of his opponents, Jesus broke the Sabbath and thus violated the Law.
The Pharisees, who witnessed the healing, left the synagogue and plotted to destroy Jesus (12, 14).
Their opposition to the actions of Jesus and his disciples culminate thus in a homicidal purpose. We
read however in the following verses: “but Jesus, knowing it, went away from there” (12, 15a).

We find a similarity of situation between Mt 12, 15 and 15, 21. In Mt 15, 1, “Then Pharisees
and scribes came from Jerusalem” and question Jesus about his disciples’ practices who, in their
view, transgress “parabai,nousin th.n para,dosin tw/n presbute,rwn” the traditions of the elders. The
Pharisees’ accusation on the grounds of the purity laws resulted in the teaching of Jesus concerning
the clean and the unclean. It’s precisely after his teaching that Jesus “withdraws” towards the
region of Tyre and Sidon (15, 21). After Jesus’ “withdrawal” in 12, 15, Matthew employs one of his
fulfilment quotations (Mt 12, 18 – 21), according to which the Servant will announce

The expression “sunagwgh.n auvtw/n” their synagogue occurs several times in the Gospel of Matthew (4, 23; 9,
35; 10, 17; 13, 54; 23, 24). Most of the commentators rely on this fact to argue that in 12, 9 it is also the Jewish
synagogue. However, we note that as in 13, 54 the expression is in the singular and that Matthew has linked the
two scenes by placing them on the same day. Therefore it is always the same Pharisees from the first Sabbath
controversy who opposed Jesus.
justice/judgment “toi/j e;qnesin” to the Nations. And, in his name, e;qnh the nations will put their
hope. The similarity in the formulation of the two pericopes (Mt 12, 15 and 15, 21), especially due
to the verb “avnacwre,w”, suggests that it is the hostility of the Pharisees that indirectly provokes
Jesus’ shift towards the Nations. In the following episode, Mt 15, 21, we are shown that the
encounter with the Canaanites would not have occurred if Jesus had not “withdrawn” out of the
land of Israel.

Further, several episodes in Matthew’s narratives bring forth several conflicts and
controversies with the Scribes and the Pharisees. Matthew considerably highlights in his Gospel
Israel’s refusal and its consequent rejection more than any other evangelist, particularly by
grouping two parables (21, 28 – 46) and by the woes Jesus uttered against the Scribes and the
Pharisees in the chapter 23.

The first parable is the one of the two sons whom their father asks to go and work in his
vineyard. The first one says “yes” but does not go, the second one says “no” but eventually fulfills
the will of the father. In the context of controversy that began with the questions that the chief
priests and the elders ask Jesus about his authority (21, 23 – 27), the attitude of the two sons
represents that of two groups: those who accept but do not do, a reproach explicitly addressed a
little after to the Scribes and Pharisees (23, 3) and the other group of those who did the will of the
father. According to Lagrange, a few manuscripts present the two sons in reverse order, contrary to
the majority of manuscripts: first the one who says “yes” but does not obey; then the one who
answers “no” but finally complies. It seems this order corresponds to the reading according to
which the two sons represents the two people called one after another in the chronology: first the
Jews, then the “Nations”. Quesnel also asks the same question by quoting Mt 15, 8: can we go as
far as saying that the two sons are symbolic representatives of the two peoples: the Jews who
honour me with their words (Is 29, 13 quoted by Mt, 15, 8) and the Gentiles who fulfilled His will.

In the parable narrated in Mt 21, 33 – 46, we find a homicidal plot, which is the same as one
narrated in 12, 14. Once again here in this parable, we detect the traces of Matthew’s own
redaction. Jesus makes the chief priests and the elders answer his concluding question: “When
therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (Mt 21, 40). In Luke
and Mark, this is just a rhetorical question and Jesus answers it himself. In Matthew, it is the chief

priests and the elders who answer, “He will utterly destroy those evil men! Then he will lease the
vineyard to other tenants”, thus pronouncing themselves their own sentence (21, 41). Finally,
Matthew has a verse that we find neither in Luke nor in Mark: "Thus I say to you: the Kingdom of
God will be taken away from you and will be given to “e;qnoj” one nation, who will produce its fruits”
(Mt 21, 43). The terms “avfV u`mw/n” from you and “e;qnei” to a nation are very significant. They are
very well related to the context of our fulfilment quotation where we remark the parallel terms:
“evkei/qen” from there19 and “toi/j e;qnesin” to the Nations. And the occurrence of the term “e;qnoj”
and the presence of Pharisees allows a connecting link between these three logia of 12, 18 – 21; 15,
21 and 21, 43.

Thus in Matthew’s Gospel, the progression of controversies and conflicts between Jesus and
the “Scribes and Pharisees” climaxed in the rupture of the Matthean community with Jewish
society. Israel’s refusal and rejection of Jesus prompts the shift and results in the ‘opening’ to the

4.3 A Crisis of Righteous Leadership: Failure of ‘Pharisaic’


In his gospel Matthew always describes the Pharisees as bad characters. We do not find a
single good example of a Pharisaic leader. Claude Tassin puts forward a hypothesis: in the 80s, it
seems Matthew’s church underwent a ministerial crisis: their leaders acted more as masters than
disciples, not modelling their lives upon the meek humble-hearted Christ (11, 29 and 12, 15 – 21).
The Gospel preferred and taught exactly the opposite to their attitude.

Before the Pharisaic leaders, Jesus is presented as meek in section 11, 28 – 12, 21. In 11, 28
– 29, he makes an appeal to his followers to ‘leave the Pharisaic school’ and ‘to learn from him’.
Unacceptance of the attitude of this Pharisaic leadership and the shift to and focusing on Jesus, the
meek “Son–Servant”, seems to be an obvious Matthean intent. According to Simon Legasse, “by
affirming himself as ‘meek and humble of heart’, Jesus puts himself forward in opposition to the
current leaders of Judaism. We come very easily to this conclusion: just as the unbearable yoke of
Here the term “evkei/qen” from there takes the reader to Mt 12, 9, where we read “sunagwgh.n auvtw/n” their
Jewish observances explains the hardness and pride of their officials, in the same way, the yoke of
Jesus put in place by a meek and merciful Messiah”. The same character of hardness and pride is
attributed to the Scribes and the Pharisees in chapter 23.

Jesus criticizes the Scribes and Pharisees for exercising hard constraints on those for whom
they are responsible as leaders of religion in Israel– “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated
themselves in the chair of Moses” (23, 2). We find three characteristic features of the Scribes and
the Pharisees; the failure of their deeds to match their words (v. 3b–c) they impose heavy burdens
(v. 4) and their love of the praise of others – pride (v. 5 – 7). Mt 23 thus is a criticism of the function
of leadership practiced by the Pharisees and Scribes. Though Jesus accepts the legitimacy of their
function in v. 2, He questions the way they exercise it and goes on to attack their legal regulations in
v. 4. Jesus criticizes the Scribal tradition in 15, 1– 20; the Pharisees’ teaching in 16, 6 – 12; disputes
with them over the Sabbath 12, 1– 14. The heavy burdens laid on men’s shoulders contrast with
Jesus’ easy yoke and light burden in 11, 28 – 30 and the interpretation of his Sabbath Law in 12, 1 –

The second part of this chapter 23, 13 –29 contains the seven woes pronounced because of
their hypocrisy. All woes are introduced except v. 16, by the phrase, “woe unto you, scribes and
Pharisees, hypocrites! Because…” All illustrate their failure to live up to their position as guardians
and interpreters of God’s law. The term hypocrisy has a wider range in Matthew. It occurs in 6, 2; 7,
5; 15, 7; 22, 18. Richard France observes, “the overall emphasis falls less on conscious insincerity
than on their failure to perceive that their religious practices and teachings are in fact inconsistent
with the desire to please God”. Matthew is cautious lest such hypocrisy invade the Church order of
his community. In 23, 23 we read: “but you have neglected the weightier provisions of the law:
justice and mercy and faithfulness”. Mercifulness and justice have a vertical dimension. The
Pharisees lack this ethic in their relation to people. Here once again we hear ‘an echo of Matthew’s
stress on love of neighbour as the cutting edge of the proper interpretation of the law’. The
situations where they treat people unfairly are well described several times in the Gospel: 15, 1 –
14, they criticize the disciples for not washing their hands before eating. Jesus’ answer describes
well their intentions toward the people: “And why do you disobey the commandment of God
because of your tradition?” (15, 3) and in v. 6 Jesus accuses: “for the sake of your tradition, you
have made void the word of God”. And in 15, 14, Jesus designates the Pharisees as “blind leaders”:

“they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch”. The
whole passage in chapter 23 thus is ‘not simply an attack on the ethical contradiction in the
personal lives of the Scribes and Pharisees but a characterization of their failure as the divinely
appointed leaders of Israel, particularly as it related to the interpretation of the Law’.

To the harshness or to the intransigence of the Scribes and the Pharisees, understood by the
imposition of heavy burdens which makes others bend and toil, is opposed to the meekness of
Jesus. Their infidelity and pride (refusal to perform the will of God), which reflect the quest for their
personal interests, is brought into conflict with Jesus’ sweetness of heart. In this perspective, the
meekness of Jesus would be understood as an attitude of forbearance and kindness, that is to say,
the absence of a merciless constraint exercised on others, the refusal to impose it on others, the
quality of the one who is obedient and faithful to God's will, who knows how to become ‘little’
among the little and feel pity and compassion.

Thus, by exposing the ways of the Scribes and the Pharisees, and by opposing their attitude
to that of Jesus’ meekness, Matthew describes the mode of behaviour that he wishes for his

4. 4 The Formation of the Matthean community: A New Doctrine

One question remains unanswered that we have already raised in the first chapter: after the
discourse on the mission, is it Jesus or the Matthean community that confronts the Pharisees about
the interpretation of the Jewish traditions? The real and detailed history of the first century of our
era will always be wrapped in large swathes of shadows, but Matthew’s Gospel reveals an
atmosphere of struggle, of tensions, of disputes between the church and the synagogue. Matthew
seems to narrate the troubles of the leaders of his community faced with the Jewish authorities. His
Gospel, in a way, is a defensive reflex.

Here we have a confrontation between the Matthean community and the synagogue. Thus,
through Jesus, Matthew gives instruction to the Christian community against the dangers of
following the ethics of the adversary. In the context of 12, 18 – 21, Jesus gives a new interpretation

of the Law. As a consequence there are three responses: the decision of the Pharisees to kill Jesus,
the non-violent reaction of Jesus “avnecw,rhsen evkei/qen” withdrew from there, and the response of
the crowd and Jesus’ in return “kai. hvkolou,qhsan auvtw/| Îo;cloiÐ polloi,” and many crowds followed
him; “kai. evqera,peusen auvtou.j pa,ntaj” and he healed them all. Who are these crowds? To look into
the response to this question, the editorial intervention in verse 12,46a is to be noted, where
Matthew mentions the crowd. We have the narration of the ‘true family of Jesus in all the three
Synoptics (Mt 12, 46 – 50; Mk 3, 31 – 31 and Lk 8, 19 –21), but only Matthew editorially adds the
presence of the crowd by inserting the verse 12, 46a. The mentioning of the same crowd can be
found right from Mt 11, 7 and that appears once again in 12, 15 and 12, 23. Here in this episode of
the true family of Jesus, Matthew gives them an identity: they are those “who do the will of God”
(12, 50). In the context of our pericope (12, 15 – 21), it appears clearly– the crowd follows Jesus.
Everyone is healed. They are the true family of Jesus, as against the Pharisees who reject him and
plot to kill him.

Why does the crowd follow Jesus? In the fulfilment quotation we read: “he will announce
justice/judgment to the nations” (12, 18c). What does ‘Justice’ signify? Is it divine righteousness? Or
is it the “justice superior” taught on the ‘Sermon on the Mount’? In chapter 23, as we have
remarked on several occasions, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees and the Scribes because they have
neglected the weightier matters in the Law: justice, mercy and faithfulness (23, 23). Here it is
explicated as the link between “the weightier matters of the Law’: justice, mercy and faithfulness.
Matthew employs the terms e;leoj and kri,sij for mercy and justice in and through the context of
our fulfilment quotation under study. The Pharisees lack these ‘weightier matters’ and even neglect
those who try to practice them. The two Sabbath controversies which serve as the context for our
fulfilment quotation are the concrete examples, how to live these weightier matters. Verse 12, 20
provides us with the imagery of misericord and the term kri,sij appears twice in this quotation.
And the expression ‘putting their hope on his name’ is nothing other than faithfulness. A ‘Name’ is
always a symbol of the ‘entirety of the person’. Thus Matthew conflates this quotation as a call to
his community in order to define their identity by practicing the ‘superior justice’, which is none
other than the ‘weightier matters of the Law’, taught on the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. The ‘Matthean
Jesus’ thus introduces and defends a ‘new doctrine’ and builds up a new community.

10.5 Conclusion: The Matthean community, Intra Muros or Extra

Thus, the Matthean text presents a ‘transparent story’ which retells the issues that were
prevalent in the community where the text was produced and read. A tension between the
Matthean community and Judaism is beyond doubt in the Matthean narration. This has led to a
debate among the scholars which divided the scholarship into two sections: one who holds the
position that in the social historical context, the Matthean community was still within the
synagogue network and Judaism20, and another who holds the view that the Matthean community
had already separated from the Jewish synagogues even though both shared the common Jewish
heritage21. The adherents of the intramural position22 use the following Matthean passages to
elucidate their position: the structure of the Pentateuch followed in the Gospel and the presence of
Hebrew words without translation point to this position (1, 23; 5, 22; 10, 25; 27, 6; 27, 33. 46). The
Law was valued and observed in the Matthean community (Mt 15, 17). Matthew presents Jesus as
George Dunbar KILPATRICK, The Origins of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, Oxford, Claredon Press,
1969, p. 122; Reinhart HUMMEL, Die Auseinandersetzung zwischen Kirche und Judentum im
Matthäusevangelium, München, C. Kaiser, (Beiträge zur Evangelischen Theologie; 33), 1963, p. 153; Hubert
FRANKEMOLLE, Jahwe-Bund und Kirche Christi: Studien zur Form und Traditionsgeschichte des
Evangeliums nach Mathäus, Münster, Aschendorff, 1974, p. 377.
Alan Segal elaborates the status of Synagogue in relation with the Matthean community by taking into
consideration these two positions (Alan F. SEGAL, “Matthew’s Jewish Voice,” in David L. BALCH, (ed.),
Social History of the Matthean Community: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1991).
And the Matthean portrayal of the Synagogue is further described in the work of Levine (Amy-Jill, LEVINE,
“Matthew's Portrayal of the Synagogue and Its Leaders” in Donald P. SENIOR, (ed.), The Gospel of Matthew at
the Crossroads of Early Christianity, Leuven/ Paris/ Walpole, Uitgeverij Peeters, (BETL, CCXLIII), 2011, pp.
177 – 193)
Ewherido’s brief on these scholars with their main thrust is remarkable and well structured chronologically:
this position “was pioneered by G. D Kilpatrick, Reinhart Hummel and F. Frankemolle, include also Andrew
Overman, whose major work on the relationship between Matthew’s Gospel and Judaism in 1990, anlyzes the
relationship by adopting an interdisciplinary approach and by applying the sociology of sectarianism to the texts.
Alan F. Segal (1991), who highlights the rabbinical expertise of Matthew (cf. 5, 22 – 48; 12, 9 – 14; chaps. 10 &
23), identifies Matthew’s community as a sect within the Judaism and classifies the Gospel’s emphasis on the
formation of the community into an evkklhsi,a (13, 58 – 18, 35) as Matthew’s reaction to Pauline criticism of
Peter’s position in the Jewish Christian community; Anthony Saldarini (1991, 1998), bases his intramural
argument on the sociology of deviance and explains the polemics and the elaborate defense of faith in Jesus as
a manifestation of Matthew’s desperation. Georg Scheuermann (1996) sees the community as a group that was
located midway between the Jewish synagogue communities and special sectarian communities like the
Qumran Essenes. David C. Sim, whose 1998 study on the relationship between Judaism and Matthew’s
community supports the intramural stance by reinforcing two aspects, which according to him, are important
features that have been overlooked, namely, the relationship of Matthew’s community to a gentile world with
which it was also in conflict and the threat felt by the community from the ‘law-free’ wing of the Christian
movement, a version of the Christian message to which the law-observant evangelist and his readers were
vehemently opposed. Craig Keener (1999), uses 13, 24 – 30 in his commentary to define Matthew’s community
as Jewish Christians who, in addition to being part of their assemblies as believers in Jesus, are fighting to
remain part of their assemblies” (Anthony Ovayero EWHERIDO, Matthew's Gospel and Judaism in the Late
First Century C.E : The Evidence from Matthew's Chapter on Parables (Matthew 13:1 – 52), New
York/Washington D.C/Baltimore/Bern/Frankfurt am Main/Brussels/Vienna, Peter Lang, (SBL, 91), 2006, pp.
22 – 23).
the new Lawgiver (5, 17 – 18; 12, 1 – 8; 15, 1– 20). We can notice the exactitude of so many Jewish
customs and practices, but without any explanation; the presence of Hebrew Scriptural typology,
citations, fulfilment quotations (6, 3 – 4; 6, 16 –19; 15, 1– 20). The householder’s exhortation to
patience in the parable of the Tares (13, 30a), is seen as the persuasion of Matthew’s community to
remain within Judaism. And further these position holders justify certain passages which are directly
anti–Jewish: Passage 10, 17 – 23 is a reflection of the parent group’s disciplinary action against
erring members, subjected to synagogue punishment because of their opposite position. An
explanation for the accusations against Jewish leaders and the bitter polemic in the Gospel (21, 33 –
43; Chapter 23, and 28, 15) is that it reflects simply the quarrels and sibling rivalry between
Matthew’s group and another competing group within Judaism. Further the Gentile invitation and
universalistic thrust of the Gospel reflect the efforts of Matthew’s group at the proselytization of
the Gentiles and an inclusive vision of the nucleus role of Israel as God’s instrument for drawing the
nations of the earth to himself. Briefing these views, one can argue in favor of the intramural
existence of the Matthean community.

The arguments given above to justify this position seem to be weak and unconvincing:
Matthew’s emphasis on the law, the use of Old Testament citations, presence of the fulfilment
quotations, narration of customs and practices without explanations, Hebrew terms without
translations cannot be taken for granted to confirm that Matthew’s community was intramural, still
a group within the synagogue community or Judaism. Further attempts to explain the positive
Gentile references and universal mission in terms of proselytization are quite imaginary and
contrary to the analyses of the text. The adherents to this position never remarked Matthew’s use
of ‘their synagogue’ and Jesus’ ‘my Church’23. The polemic against the Scribes and Pharisees which
is well highlighted by the evangelist cannot be taken it as a simple internal crisis.

The scholars who hold the extramural position observe that “Matthew’s community and
Judaism coexisted in the sectarian milieu of the first century and shared a common Jewish heritage.
However, the Matthew’s community had separated from the parent group at the time the Gospel
was written due to irreconcilable differences, although that community continued debates with the
local Jewish synagogues over issues concerning their common heritage”. Matthew’s redactions on

When we compare with all other Synoptics, we can observe that Matthew edits with his text the attribute
auvtw/n “their” with the noun Synagogue. Further Matthew intentionally uses the possessive pronoun mou with the
noun evkklhsi,a..
Mark especially to the references to the synagogue and Scribes, by adding a genitive personal
pronoun, their synagogue and their Scribes points to the Matthean community’s extramural status.
Saldarini observes that the Matthean community as a “new people” following the transference of
the Kingdom as manifested in Matthew’s redaction of Mark in the parable of the Wicked Servants
(Mt 21, 23 – 43 and Mk 12, 1 – 12). The narration of the persecution experienced by the community
(5, 10 – 12; 10, 16 – 25; 23, 34 – 35) and the emphasis on the Gentile mission in the Gospel show
further evidence for this position.

For us, beyond the question of extramuros or intramuros, a group within Judaism or
separated from Judaism, the Matthean community is a ‘fulfilment’: a fulfilment of the Scripture and
of the prophecy. Thus evkklhsi,a is a fulfilment, not a new ‘morceau’ as promised messiah fulfilled in
Jesus, the promised nations fulfil in evkklhsi,a. It is a process of ‘transition’ based on the ‘fulfilment’.
A community at a time shares the Jewish elements, and in their universal missionary endeavour,
incudes the Gentiles. Thus the Matthean community is a corps mixte, including both Jews and