Matthew’s Compassion and Jesus’ Concern for Israel

In material unique to Matthew in chs. 8-10, Matthew describes the helpless, pitiable state of those receiving the benefits of Jesus’ ministry. In this same material, Jesus is concerned for Israel. The three texts noted below present a different emotional posture from Jesus’ anger with the Jewish leadership and the Pharisees in Matthew (e.g., ch. 23).

(1) In the healing report at Capernaum (Matt 8:16-17//Mark 1:32-34//Luke 4:40-41), Matthew includes in Matt 8:17 the citation of Isa 53:4 “He himself took our weaknesses and carried our diseases” (CSB). To cite the weakness and disease of those Jesus heals portrays them as worthy of compassion.

(2) In Jesus’ proclamation that the harvest is great (Matt 9:35-38//Mark 6:6b, 34//Luke 8:1; 10:2), Matthew includes the statement that the crowds were “distressed and dejected” (Matt 9:36). Mark notes, with Matthew, that the crowds were like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36//Mark 6:34; see Num 27:17) but Matthew adds the qualifying adjectives “distressed and dejected.”

(3) In Jesus’ commission of the twelve (Matt 10:1-16//Mark 6:7; 3:13-19a; 6:8-11//Luke 9:1; 6:12-16; 9:2-5; 10:3), Matthew includes Jesus’ instruction that His disciples avoid the Gentiles and the region of Samaria so that they might go directly to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:6). Israel was to receive the kingdom benefits of healing and liberation, Jesus said.

Within the material unique to Matthew in Matthew 8-10, taken together Matt 8:17; 9:36 and 10:6 portray the recipients of Jesus’ ministry as desperate and worthy of compassion. The collocation of sheep/shepherd imagery in Matt 9:36 and 10:6 places Israel as the special object of Jesus’ compassion.

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