Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Journey With Matthew - Day 10

Read Matthew 7:21-8:13

What do we mean when we say "Matthew's Jesus?" (Or the Markan Jesus, or Lukan Jesus, or Johannine Christ?) We mean that the four gospels don't give us access to the "historical" Jesus from first-century Palestine. As in all relationships, what someone tells us about someone else is shaped by them. Ask four different people to tell you about a potential new employee, or someone you are thinking of dating, and you will get four different perspectives. Hopefully consistent with each other and coherent but nevertheless distinct. The same is true about the four gospels, written down in distinct communities with their own history and experience of the risen Christ three or four decades after the resurrection.When teaching this notion to people in a parish or an undergraduate classroom I always asked them to try to imagine what happens in a faith community over forty years or so. You could go into an evangelical, mainline, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox congregation and ask them all to tell you about Jesus but what you would get in all four cases is their "spin" on Jesus - the testimony as they have received it.

Why is my brain going into this "rabbit hole" today? I'm thinking about Martin Luther - who was not crazy about the Epistle of James. And I'm wondering which of the four gospels was his favorite? I'm not sure I've ever read anything about that, but I think of the four, the "Matthean Jesus" is the closest of the four gospel portraits to that of James' epistle.

In other words: you can't just hear the Word but need to be a doer of that Word. You can't just say, "Lord, Lord" with your lips - you have to hear these words and act upon them. 

This is not the last time we'll hear this kind of talk from Matthew's Jesus. In chapter 25, how are the nations to be judged? Not by dividing them into those who proclaimed Jesus as Lord with their lips or claim to be "Christian nations" and those that are not. That is very clear in Matthew. They are judged, instead, by how they acted, and in particular how they treated the poor.

All this said, there is so much more here. Sam Portaro (who always makes me think) has a good discussion on "authority" in his reflections in A Journey With Matthew for today. One might also ponder how when they come down from the "sermon" on the mount - what is being said is modeled because Jesus starts to do this work by healing people. Who gets healed and why not everyone? But this is just a reminder that the world cannot contain all the books of the places where Scripture can lead us, and why a fifty-day journey is just a beginning.

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