Matthew 12 (and Luke 13)

Most of the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees were conducted in public. Both Werner Mischke and Jerome Neyrey (Mischke relying on Neyrey) talk of four steps in what was always a protocol of ‘push and shove’, challenge and riposte:[1]

(1) a claim of worth or value;

(2) a challenge or refusal to acknowledge that claim;

(3) a riposte or defence of the claim; and

(4) a public verdict of success awarded to either claimant or challenger.

Take, for example, Matthew 12:8-16, 23. In this story, we have (1) Jesus claim to honour, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (v8); (2) a challenge to that claim, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Asked so as to open the possibility of accusation! (3) a riposte, in this case in three parts: (a) an indirect response, Jesus paints a picture of a sheep in desperate need, who would not help it, he asks (v11-12); (b) a direct response, “So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (v12); (c) a demonstration of authority, “Then Jesus said to the man [with the withered hand] Stretch out your hand. And the man stretched it out, and it was restored (v13).  The Pharisees lost the contest and this is attested by the response of those present, “And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. … And all the people were amazed, and said, Can this be the Son of David?” (v15, 23).

Mishcke goes comments that “the beauty of the indirect communication, [in this case the story of the sheep] is that it creates space. It allows individuals to save face when giving bad news.”[2] No doubt, it also creates a little breathing space which might allow the protagonist to back down with losing too much face him or herself.

Halvor Moxnes provides an almost identical analysis of a parallel passage in Luke (13:10-17). In Luke the person seeking healing is a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. Nonetheless, the story follows the same structure and Moxnes comments on the same drama of challenge and risposte. He comments that “This is only one of many similar stories about Jesus; throughout the Synoptic Gospels challenge and riposte are a common form of interaction between Jesus and his opponents (cf. Matt 4:1–11; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 4:1–13; 10:25–37).”[3]


[1] Werner Mischke; “Honor and Shame in Cross-Cultural relationships;” p15; Jerome H. Neyrey; “Honour and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew;” p20.

[2] Mischke, op.cit., p17.

[3] Halvor Moxnes; “”Honor and Shame,” in The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation, R. L. Rohrbaugh, ed. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996, p22-23.

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