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The sun had set and finally the crowds had dispersed. The disciples gathered in the upper room, exhausted but joyful after preaching and teaching in many different languages all day, not to speak of seeing to the baptism of three thousand people. James bar Alphaeus put on a CD of the Bach Christmas Oratorio, which seemed somehow appropriate, while James and John opened the fridge and broke out cool ones for all the men, who were sitting and lying around resting their feet.

Then came a knock on the door.

Peter said, “John, would you get that.”

“Sure, Rocky,” said John, and went to the door.

Standing outside were a hand of men, all five distinguished leaders of the Jews: one of the chief priests, two rabbis, and two synagogue officials. “May we come in?” asked the chief priest.

“Certainly,” said John. “Andrew, would you move in five more chairs for our guests? And what would you men like to drink?”

After all had settled down and wedges of a really fine goat-milk Gouda with cumin seeds had been passed around, the chief priest, Johanan, who seemed to be the spokesman for the group, said, “So, then, men. Where’s the book?”

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Look! My servant whom I have chosen,
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased!
I will put my Spirit upon him
And judgment to the nations he will announce.
He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
And smoldering flax he will not quench,
Until he sends forth judgment to victory;
And in his name nations will trust.
— Matthew 12:18-21

These words, slightly modified from Isaiah 42, are often quoted in connection with Jesus’ compassion, and compassion certainly is present in this context. Jesus heals the multitudes who follow him (12:15).

But Matthew quotes this passage from Isaiah with something else in mind. The Pharisees are plotting to destroy Jesus (12:14), but Jesus’ response is not to destroy them in return. Instead, he withdraws. When the crowds follow him, he heals them but he also hushes them. He warns them not to make him known, Matthew says, so that “it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet,” and then he quotes the words above.

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