If we were to assign a catch phrase to the Gospel of Matthew it would have to be, “This happened in order to fulfill the words of the prophet…” Time and again Matthew uses those words or a variation thereof to connect Jesus with key passages of promise in the Old Testament. Matthew 12:15-21 is no exception. In its larger context the quote is attached to two significant events which took place on the Sabbath. The first incident involved eating grains which were plucked off the heads of wheat and the second was the miraculous healing of a man with a withered hand (Mt. 12:1-21). These controversial actions do not sit well with the Pharisees. As sticklers for strict Torah observance (with their lengthy compromises to get around it!), Jesus, in their opinion, clearly violated the Law on all accounts here. But Jesus counters with the correct interpretation concerning the Law’s intent for compassion, citing King David and the care of sheep as examples.
While Matthew recalls the inevitable outcome after the healing (Mt. 12:14-15), he also recognizes a significant connection to a prophecy of Isaiah. In fact the prophecy which Matthew quotes (the longest Old Testament quote in his Gospel) is part of several prophecies which focus on “the Suffering Servant” (Is. 42:1-13; 49:1-13; 50:4-11: 52:13-53:12). Spiros Zodhiates noted in his commentary on Matthew that “Jesus would be a servant to His Father” and that He was chosen (Mt. 12:18; Is. 42:1) for this task implying that Jesus was “suitable for the task”. Jesus took on human flesh in order to accomplish the task of redemption. He was specifically given this “job” and He accomplished it. Therefore God the Father also declares that “He is My Beloved”.
The adjective “beloved” (agapetos) was first heard at Jesus’ baptism (Mt. 3:17; Mk.1:11; Lk. 3:22) and then during the Transfiguration (Mt. 17:5; Mk. 9:7; Lk. 9:35; 2 Pet. 1:17). Jesus also uses it of Himself in the parable of the Vineyard and Vinedresser (Mk. 12:112; Lk. 20:9-18). It signifies that something or someone is the object of a unique love, and in human terms peculiar to only that person. Agapetos with the possessive “My” is never used of anyone else but Jesus in the New Testament. Its Old Testament equivalent (ratsa, pronounced rate-zay) in Isaiah 42:1 comes from the verb which means to delight or take pleasure in. Although there are many things that the Lord takes delight in (the Lord takes pleasure in uprightness in 1 Chr. 29:17 for example), there is only One Person that He holds as His Beloved and that person is Jesus. And although the word is not found in the Passion narrative of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ sacrificial death is certainly the utmost demonstration of His love for us.
How much do you love Jesus? What place does He occupy on the list of people you might write down as those you love? Where does He rank among the relationships you invest time in? The Father’s love for His Son places Him at the center of all things and above all things (Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:16-17). Is that the position He holds in your life? I find it very interesting that Matthew includes no testimony concerning His relationship with Jesus within his Gospel. But thankfully Mark and Luke do (Mk. 2:13-14; Lk. 5:27-32)! Matthew’s profession put him at odds with his countrymen. As a tax collector he had the legal duty of collecting money for Rome, but Rome often looked the other way if a tax collector decided to add on a few charges on for himself. Yet one day when Matthew was on the job, Jesus walked by, turned to him and said, “Come, follow Me” and Matthew did. How about you? If Jesus walked by you at any given moment during your week and said, “Come, follow Me!” would you get up and go? Would you call Him beloved and let Him assume a cherished and central place in your heart, in your life? How you answer that question, is an indicator as to whether or not Jesus is your Beloved.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 3/20/2016