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Saturday, August 2, 2014

From Demons to Money Fish

Image source.

I read Matthew 17:14-27 this week, and as always, I have a lot of questions:

Let's start with verses 14-21 (though the translation I'm reading has no 21). I talked about this last week but I'd like to look at it again. Jesus meets a father whose son "has a demon," and he's already asked the disciples to heal him but no luck. Of course, Jesus heals him.

So is this a demon or not? In verse 15, the father explains the problem as "he has seizures and is suffering greatly." No mention of a demon. But then verse 18 says Jesus made the demon come out. So which is it?

It seems that Matthew believed that the seizures were caused by a demon. What do we think of that? Are demons real? Or were the biblical authors wrong about that- because they just wrote according to how they understood the world, and of course they had some misconceptions. In other words, the bible is wrong here. (I'm starting to suspect the bible is wrong about a lot of things, like "God told us to kill all the people in this city.")

Demons could be real though. I don't know.

Why does Jesus say, "You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" He seems frustrated about something. Is it because the disciples couldn't heal this kid? Is that really something he can chastise them for failing to do?

I guess in Matthew 10 he had "[given] them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness." So... now they should be able to do it- no excuses?

And then this bit about having faith like a mustard seed and you can move mountains. Umm, what?

No really, what?

Okay so it's hyperbole. But I don't get how one can use hyperbole to communicate something whose size/extent the audience didn't understand in the first place. It's like asking, "How big is your new tv?" and someone answers, "It's so big, we watched football and the ball was as big as an elephant!" Like, what? If that's true, that's completely unreasonable. If that's hyperbole, you've done nothing to answer the question.

Jesus says faith can move mountains. But that's not true, that's a hyperbole. So this really tells us nothing about what we can cause by having faith. Probably driving out demons, at the very least. You know, if you believe in demons and all that.

(And I'll point out that I just used the word "cause"- causing something to happen by having faith. Is that right?)

And what does he mean by "faith" here anyway? Just like, really really believing really hard- the typical American/Disney understanding of "faith"? I've heard people criticize this definition and say that instead, "faith" means trusting in God, or being committed to God. But what would that mean in this context? What is "faith the size of a mustard seed"?

Image source.

Let's move to the next section, where Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.

Why did he tell the disciples this? I'm guessing so that when it happened, they would be like "ohhhhhhhh I get it!"

How did Jesus feel when he told them? Was he feeling kind of nervous and hoping someone would comfort him? Did Jesus have friends he could share his struggles with? Would anyone understand? Maybe he felt lonely most of the time.

Image source.

And then the bizarre story about finding money in the fish.

First of all, here's how the story's always sounded to me: Somebody asks Peter "so does Jesus pay the temple tax?" Peter actually doesn't know, but he just says yes. Then the next time Jesus sees him, Jesus makes a point of correcting him about it. See Jesus is, well, Jesus, so he doesn't have to pay, but he'll pay anyway so as not to make trouble. And you can find the money in a fish.

Let's start with this question: What is the "temple tax" anyway? And why does it seem like you could just pay it, you know, whenever? No one's asking Jesus to pay, they just want to know if he does or not. Then he decides to take initiative and get Peter some money to pay it.

And, umm, what the heck is with the fish? Peter's gonna go catch a random fish and find a coin in its mouth. So, that counts as a miracle, right? I thought Jesus was only supposed to do miracles for important reasons.

Here's a blog post with an interesting perspective: Fish are attracted to shiny things, right? So maybe this fish just grabbed the coin on its own initiative and Jesus, being God, knew where to find that fish.

Is there some kind of deep significance here? This story always seemed silly to me.

A few other blog posts I found said this story is about the question of whether or not Jesus should pay the Jewish tax. Big dilemma, right? Should he or shouldn't he?

And he solves the problem this way: He pays it, so he doesn't make trouble, but he gets the money from the fish, so really it didn't cost him anything.

But all through the gospels, Jesus makes a lot of trouble. It never occurred to me that he would go along with something, even if he really shouldn't have paid it because he's God-Man, just so he wouldn't make trouble.

Cats make trouble. Jesus is not a cat. Image source.

Okay, that's all. Lots of questions this week. Thanks for reading!

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: This bible story feels so surreal (and it's not because of the demon) (Matthew 17:14-21)

Next post: Jesus had some millstone-related things to say about that. (Matthew 18:1-14) 

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

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