Our Vatican II document, “Verbum Dei,” at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada tells us:
To search out the intention of the sacred writers, give attention among other things, to “literary forms…” The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express…in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accord with the situation of his own time and culture”
The Hebrew Hermeneutics St. Matthew used as a grammarian/scribe has a rule, “G’zerah Shavah.” This rule tells us, where the same words are applied to two separate cases, the same considerations apply to both.” St. Matthew tells us, “Do not tell yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. The ax lies at the root of the trees. Every tree not bearing beautiful fruit will be cut and thrown into the fire.”
It is important to note, the Hebrew/Aramaic word for “Tree,” is the same as the Hebrew/Aramaic word for “Counselor.” When talking about trees, Jesus talks about the leadership of his time. The key word is “Stone.” The children of Abraham can come from stones, such as Peter/Petros/stone. One chapter later, The Great Accuser tells Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” If the tree refers to the leadership, the stone refers to the children of Abraham, the common people. Jesus’ temptation is to feed off the people, like the richest 1% feed off their employees today.
Jesus replies, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word coming from the mouth of God.” One Hebrew word for justice is “שְׁפָּטִ,” which means lip. Justice comes from the lip of God. The quote is from Deuteronomy 8 and begins, “God allowed you to be afflicted with hunger, and fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers.” As Irish, Italian, German, and Polish Americans we must remember the suffering we received while living in Europe, in the sweatshops of the north, and in the slavery of the south.
The context of this passage is the Jewish 40 year walk through the desert, “Guard the Mitzvah of the Personal Name your Almighty Judge, walk in His ways, and look to Him.” Deuteronomy 8 goes on to tell us:
Guard to not forget the Personal Name your Almighty Judge, failing to guard his Mitzvah, correct judicial precedents, and customs… When you eat and are satisfied, have built fine houses and live in them… your silver and gold will increase, all your property will increase and you will become proud of heart and forget the Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, who brought you out of the land of Oppression…
That 20% of Americans bringing home over 70% of the wealth each year forgot. They forget the other warning, “You might say in your heart, “My own power and the strength of my own hand has got me this wealth.” Deuteronomy condemns the protestant work ethic, and rugged individualism. “The Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, gives you the power to get wealth, by fulfilling, as he has now done, the Brit he swore to your fathers.”
God put us on those boats to come to America. Too many Americans live in the other America, the ones who went off to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They are Born, on the Fourth of July. They went to do the right thing. They suffer poverty, depression, alcoholism, discrimination, while draft dodgers who promote wars run for president and serve as president.
Jesus’ crucifixion echoes the words we read in the debate with the Great Accuser. Jesus addresses these words to the leadership of Israel in Jesus’ day, and our own leadership, political, in private enterprise, and religious. The temptation is in the Protestant work ethic and rugged individualism. God gives us wealth; we do not earn it.
The section ends with the Gospel of St. Matthew’s thesis statement. Jesus is tempted 40 days and 40 nights, one day and one night for each year of his life. The magi’s star appeared in 7 BC. Scholars firmly date the crucifixion at Passover, 33 A.D. St. Mark tells us how he lived with the Chaim, the living things, and the messengers/the apostles ministered to him. The Gospel, the story of Jesus’ walk as the apostles’ minister to him begins.
The next time we look at our Christmas tree, look at the ax marks. The next time we go camping in summer, look at the stones in the creek, and remember, God can make children of E Pluribus Unum from these stones.