NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 14: Then, some blind people and some who were crippled came to Jesus in the Temple area and Jesus healed them.
Something must have triggered this sudden rush of people surging into the Temple area to seek healing from this unknown prophet from Nazareth. It may no doubt have been from the testimonies of those who were following Jesus, some of which were healed prior to His coming there, and they had been following Him after they were healed. Could it be that among those giving witness to Jesus’ healing power were the two blind men healed as Jesus left Jericho a few days earlier?
What better way to attract people to Jesus than for those who’ve been healed and changed by His touch to testify to the miraculous change that came into their lives. There have been times when I’ve witnessed where such testimonies have prompted more people to turn to Jesus than a sermon. That’s why we must always keep in mind that we are not healed to be spectators, but ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
Verse 15a: The leading priests and the teachers of the law saw the marvelous things He was doing. And they also saw the children praising Him in the Temple area shouting, “Praise to the Son of David.”
Once again, as in the case of blind Bartimaeus in Mark’s Gospel,1 the leaders of the Jews were incensed at the people’s acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah, David’s son. After all, it was they themselves who were supposed to recognize and give credence to the Christ when He came, not the lowly masses. He was to be a friend of the High Priests, Scribes, and Levites, not the tax collectors, prostitutes, and the poor. He would praise the Sadducees and Pharisees, not condemned them. He would exterminate their enemies, not ask that they are prayed for.
However, if this Jesus loved by the multitudes is really the awaited Messiah, they will now have to acknowledge that fact and be reconciled with Him. This, they were not about to do. Their pride and positions in the community were at stake. Even as Christ Himself said, “We must become as little children and be converted to enter the kingdom of heaven.” To them, that did not fit the image of those would follow the Messiah. He was to be a champion riding in on His stallion, ready to rule the world. Problem was, they had the right person in Jesus of Nazareth, but were not placing Him in the right context; He had come to be the Savior of the world before He would return as the King of the world. So they were caught between the adoring crowds and their own skeptical religious leaders.
Surely they knew that Isaiah said this is exactly how the Messiah would minister, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened so that they can see, and the ears of the deaf will be opened so that they can hear. Crippled people will dance like deer, and those who cannot speak now will use their voices to sing happy songs.”2 Not only that, but their spiritual fathers had said this would come after they returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon and Persia, and that certainly was the case.3 But on top of that, they were further caught off guard because of all the other wonderful things Jesus was doing without their sponsorship or approval.
Verse 15b-16a: All this made the priests and the teachers of the law very upset, so they confronted Jesus, “Do You hear what these children are saying?”
As we can see, while the crowd is praising Jesus for His works with hosannas, and the children are praising Him for being the Messiah, calling Him the royal descendant of king David, the priests and scribes had a different reaction. What caused these leading priests and scribes so much concern about the children, is that their own teaching stated that if a child knows how to shake the lulab,4 they become responsible for what the lulab represents; and if they know how to drape the prayer shawl on their heads, their father must purchase one for them; and if they are old enough to speak, they must be taught the Torah and learn how to recite the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Not only that, but if they know how to purify themselves, they must be allowed to eat kosher foods; and if they know how to spread out their hands to say a benediction, then they must be allowed to partake of the terumah, which is a special food offering prepared so that a portion can be tithed for the support of priests.5
In other words, these were not just innocent, uninformed children crying Hosanna while mimicking the adults, but children who knew what they were doing. So as one respected Rabbi said: “If a child knows how to shake the lulab according to the instructions of the Sages,” then they are eligible to fulfill the commandments related to the Feasts.6 Instead, it made these religious leaders angry. The Persian Version renders it: “it displeased the priests;” the Aramaic Version says: “they were displeased;” the Arabic Version says: “they murmured;” the Ethiopic translation has: “it was not pleasant to them,” and an old Hebrew version of Matthew renders it: “The sages mocked.”7 It is ironic, that here the adults were wrong by being upset over what children were doing right.
Verse 16b: So Jesus answered them, “Yes I do. But have you never read where the Scriptures say, ‘You have prepared children and infants to give praise.’”8
I’m not sure if these aggravated Jewish religious leaders were prepared for the answer they received from Jesus on this matter. Instead of being defensive, He offered them an answer from a source they could not argue with. The Jewish Version or Psalm 8:2 reads: “From the mouths of babies and infants at the breast you established strength because of your foes, in order that you might silence the enemy and the avenger.” Even though Jesus did not say nor did Matthew include it here, the words of David in another psalm were certainly apropos on this occasion: “Give ADONAI His due, you who are godly; give ADONAI His due of glory and strength; give ADONAI the glory due His name; worship ADONAI in holy splendor.”9
Verse 17: Then Jesus turned and walked out of Jerusalem over to Bethany where He spent the night.
It appears that our Lord left the leading priests and teachers of the law standing with their mouths open, thinking about the Scripture He had just quoted them before He walked away. Matthew tells us that He went over to Bethany where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. We are not told how many of the disciples went with Him, but we do know they were there the next morning to witness His encounter with a fig tree.10
Bethany is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but in the Babylonian Talmud it is referred to as Beth Hini.11 Bethany was a village to the east of the mount of Olives, on the road to Jericho; about two miles from Jerusalem. When St. Jerome visited this area between 385-388 AD, he noted that the village was small and poor, and the cultivation of the soil around it is much neglected; but it is a pleasant, romantic spot, shaded by Mount Olive, and abounding in vines and long grass. He said, “Bethany is a village at the second milestone from Aelia [Jerusalem], on the slope of Mount of Olive, where the Savior raised Lazarus to life, to which event the church now built there bears witness” It consists of from thirty to forty dwellings inhabited by about 600 Mohammedans, for whose use there is a neat little mosque standing on a mound. Here they show the ruins of a sort of castle as the house of Lazarus, and a grotto as his tomb; and the house of Simon the leper, of Mary Magdalene, and of Martha, and the identical tree which our Lord cursed, are among the monk’s souvenirs of the place. According to Jewish sources, today this is the site of the village el-æAzariye on the southeastern slopes of Mount Olive. The identification is established by the name el-æAzariye which is the Arabic form for “Lazarium,” as Bethany was sometimes called by the Christians. The village, with its olive, fig, almond, and carob-trees, is a little oasis in that barren region. In Hebrew, figs are called te’enah, which are also mentioned in the Talmud, which probably contributed to giving the place its name of beth (home) of te’enah (figs).
Regardless of how blessed Bethany was because of Lazarus’ resurrection and Jesus’ many visits, we are told by the Jews that the day came when all the bazaars in Bethany were destroyed.12 Bible scholars tell us: “These were stores set up on Mount Olive for the supply of pigeons and other commodities required for sacrifices, and owned by the powerful priestly families, to whom they proved a source of wealth, were destroyed three years before the fall of Jerusalem [in 70 AD].”13 In any case, this is where Jesus went to spend the night, either at the house of Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary, or over at the house of Simon the Leper. To put it bluntly, He went there for a good night’s sleep because He knew what awaited Him the next morning back at the Temple in Jerusalem, and He wanted to be mentally and physically prepared.
1 Mark 10:46-52
2 Isaiah 35:5-6
3 Pesikta De-Rab Kahana, op. cit. Piska 5:16, p. 159
4 See verses 6-9 of this chapter
5 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit. Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Sukkah, folio 42a
6 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, op. cit. Sefer Zemanim, Tractate Shofar, Sukkah, uLulav, Ch. 7, Halacha 19
7 Hebrew version of Matthew, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Psalm 8:2
9 Psalm 29:2 – Complete Jewish Version
10 See verse 20, this chapter
11 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nashim, Masekhet Pesahim, folio 53a
12 Ibid. Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Baba Mezia, folio 88a
13 Ibid. Footnote (11)