No discussion about money in Matthew’s gospel would be complete without looking at the rich young ruler: Matthew 19:16–30.
This week, I’ve written a short drama set some years later. Matthew is jail and the now not-so-young ruler gets to decide his fate.
I won’t repeat the story, but here are a few background facts you may not have known or realised:
- Matthew’s gospel only refers to the man as a ‘young man’; it’s Luke who says he was a ruler.
- In Matthew’s gospel, the young man calls Jesus ‘teacher’; Jesus asks him why he’s asking Jesus about what is good. In the other gospels, the young man calls Jesus ‘good’ and Jesus asks why the young man calls him good. In both cases, Jesus says only God is good – so we have an implicit claim of divinity here.
- It says the young man went away sad because he had ‘many possessions’. The noun in the Greek was commonly used to refer to land. This actually makes a lot of sense in the context of the land being ‘possessed’ by Israel, and Israel being God’s ‘treasured possession’. There are lots of connotations around inheritance.
- The young man met Jesus near Galilee. So, not far from where Matthew was called to be a disciple.
- The region north east of Galilee comprised various areas, including Iturea, Auranitis, and Gaulanitis. It used to be ruled by the tetrarch Philip (see Luke 3:1), but in AD 53 it was given to King Herod Agrippa II (Wikipedia article here). This was the same Agrippa that Paul testified before in Acts 25–26. The capital of Iturea was Caesarea Philippi – named after Philip (again, article here).
I mention the fourth bullet, because I imagine the rich young to be a politically connected with the ruling class in the territories that Philip governed. The sketch is set after the events in Acts 25–26.
As you might have gathered from the fact that I didn’t send anything out last week, and I’m later than usual this week, this was a difficult play to write – but I’m really pleased with it!
It draws together themes of money, power, family and inheritance, touching on both Matthew’s calling, and the Genesis story where Abraham doesn’t sacrifice Isaac.
Here you go!
The Sacrifice of Inheritance
ADVISORY WARNING: Brief mention of child sacrifice (Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22).
PREMISE: In his later years, the apostle Matthew is imprisoned and starts to write his gospel. When his jailer visits him, Matthew recognises him as the rich man who, years ago, had asked Jesus what he should do to have eternal life.
LENGTH: ~2,000 words
JASON: Smart, calm, earnest. Doesn’t play games. Has lived decades wondering if he made the right decision when he didn’t follow Jesus. He is a wealthy landowner, loosely connected to the Herodian dynasty and familiar with its corruption and politics. He lives in territory formerly ruled by the tetrarch Philip, but later handed to King Agrippa II—the same Agrippa that Paul testified before.
MATTHEW: The apostle; not shy about the gospel message or who Jesus was.
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