Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Matthew's Gospel - Tom Woodward's Presentation at St. Bede's Forum


There are two things you will learn in this Forum: that one of the Wise Men was a Lutheran and that God  intended for the Church to be Episcopalian.  But first, the less relevant stuff.

To begin, here is a thumbnail comparison of the four gospels:
       - Mark - Jesus is a man of action (the key word is euthus, (immediately), as Jesus goes from  
                     place to place as he teaches and performs miracles.
       - Luke - Jesus in the healer, compasssion one.
       - John - the gospel is focused on our relationship to the Risen Christ.
       - Matthew - Jesus as rabbi, teacher.

In constructing his gospel, Matthew bases most of his narrative on the earlier gospel of Mark and, like Luke, gets most of Jesus' teaching from a document scholars have named "Q," from the Latin, "Quella," which means "document" or "source." Matthew uses a slightly different and longer version of Q than Luke does. He also uses different sources all his own as well as one of the widely circulated versions of the Passion. His gospel was written about 95 CE, well after the death of the disciple Matthew.

In Matthew, teaching is paramount - Matthew gathers scattered remarks in the other gospels into extended narratives. For example, he takes a few verses in Luke and transforms them into the Sermon on the Mount.

I  will focus on the two main issues or concerns that run through Matthew's gospel:
            Christian ethics or morality, including his concern for church life.
            Our relationship to Israel or the Jews and the Jewish Law.

            Several years ago I was very involved in our national church's debate on sexual morality. Our General Convention had set up a list serve so all our bishops, General Convention deputies, and members of national committees could work through important issues between Conventions. I was one of ten liberals given the imposing title of "Verbosian." Ten conservatives were given the same title, which represented our leadership on different sides of several issues.
            The debates about sexual morality mirrored the much earlier debate in American Christianity about slavery. The pro-slavery faction's arguments were based on proof-texting (assembling various verses in the Bible, many out of context) while the anti-slavery faction argued from the overall message of Scripture. My case was that Scripture, itself, and the gospels in particular focused on matters of character and relationships in dealing with sexual ethics. If you want to discover the heart of the teaching in Christian Scriptures there are three places where you will find it: the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12 ff., The Last Judgment, "Lord, where did we see you hungry. . .? (Matthew 25:31-46), and Paul's description of those led by the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
             Matthew gives extra weight to the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount which follows with his association of Jesus on the mountain with Moses receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai. Later, near the center of the gospel, Matthew, like Mark and Luke, has Jesus, in the Transfiguration on a hill, being flanked by Moses (Law) and Elijah, representing the Prophets.


Mark gathers what he has as facts and arranges them for best effect in communicating the meaning and effect of Jesus Christ. Matthew by and large keeps Mark's arrangement, but deals with the facts/data in the light of his beliefs about the relationship of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the needs of the church.
    - over and over he notes that certain events and teaching were foretold in Hebrew prophesy,
    - almost every chapter contains the phrase "that the Scripture  may be fulfilled,"
    - he sometimes modifies elements of a story to fit a prediction because of his belief that
            Jesus has brought all prophesies to fulfillment,
    - In the Sermon on the Mount, the phrase used is "it was said to those of old time, but I say . . ."

Matthew often Tries to relate teachings of Jesus to needs and circumstances of Church
            Almsgiving /  prayer and fasting (6:1-8)
            Marriage and divorce - (5:27-32)
            Conduct of children and brethren (18:10-14; 5:25-26; 7:12; 18:15f.)
            Remaining faithful under persecution (latter half of the gospel)
            The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Tenants) 21:33-44) shared by Luke and Mark, is                                used by Matthew to justify the non-Jewish composition of the followers of Jesus.


Matthew mostly keeps narrative and teaching separate, alternating Mark and his version of Q
Instead of isolated sayings (Mark & Luke), Matthew has long discourses with single theme.
            1. Sermon on the Mount (5-7)
            2. Duties of Missionaries (9:35-11:10)
            3. Description of the character required of followers of Jesus (13:1-58)
            4. Strictures on Pharisees (18:1-19:1)
            5. Apocalyptic teaching (24:1-26:2).

The Overall Structure of the Gospel (reflecting the Five Books of the Torah)

The Gospel begins with Geneology, Birth Narratives, Flight to Egypt (unique to Matthew)
The Gospel ends with the Passion and Post-Resurrection Appearances.
The rest of gospel is in five sections, reflecting the five books of the Torah
            1  Early ministry up to calling of disciples  7:28
            2  Extension of Ministry in Galilee  11:1
            3  Rising opposition  (13:53)
            4  Departure from Galilee- declaration of Messiahship
            5  Journey to Jerusalem and arrival.


First, for Jews, the Law is a gift, not a burden (it was a blessing to know what is required, what is     expected by one you love.

For Matthew, Jesus fulfills the Law (not just follows, but brings to its full realization)

            The best illustration of this is the ethical progression from Lamech in Genesis (4:23-24) ""I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold.") to the revolutionary "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" in Exodus 21:24 to Jesus' words in 5:38-42) "You have heard that it has been said "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," but I say unto you that you resist not evil, but whosoever shall strike you on your right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also."                
           I believe the best treatment of the Sermon on the Mount is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, The Cost of Discipleship. His treatment  is compelling. One of Bonhoeffer's intimations is that the point of much of the Sermon on the Mount is that in finding them true, but so difficult, we are driven to God's Grace.

A Note About the Relationship of the Christian Church to the Jewish People (John, also)

            In John's Gospel, towards the end of the Gospel there are several disparaging remarks about "the Jews."  John's meaning is that there is a critical difference between the Jews (and others) in the Jesus Movement and the Jews of the Pharisees and like minded others. Each side argued that it was the authentic remnant of the Jewish people who had preceded them.  This struggle was not new in Judaism (or has it been absent in the Christian churches!)  There have always been such struggles within Judaism, between the traditions of the Law and the Prophets, later between the followers of Hillel and Shammai, and in our time among Reformed, Conservative and Orthodox Jews.
            With the Commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Romans, the great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, opened the door for a whole new understanding of the relationship between Christians and Jews. In summary, In Barth's study of Romans 11-12,  he notes Paul's argument that God's promise to Abraham that he and his descendants would always be God's chosen people was a promise. Period. And God does not break promises. Thus, the Jewish people remain God's chosen people - and through the sacrificial death of Jesus, Christians have been grafted into Jewish history. We now share in the promises ("the chosen people" refers to our vocation to be "a light to the Gentiles" and to draw all of creation to our Creator).
            This discovery of Barth's is revolutionary, though not as widely accepted throughout the Christian Church as it should be. The predominant theology of the church through the ages has been Triumphalism, by which once Jesus had come, he replaced the Law and those who held onto the Law separate from Jesus were either of no account or the enemy. That understanding has provided the roots for anti-Semitism through the centuries. In our country, it was Paul van Buren, an Episcopalian, who first popularized Barth's conclusions.
            When you read Paul's argument in Romans 11-12 in light of just what I just noted, Barth's conclusions seem obvious; but one of the world's tragedies is that most of Christendom seems to ignore or to be uninformed of them.


           Through most of its life, the Episcopal Church has embraced at least three theological and liturgical traditions as part of its whole - High Church, Low Church, and Broad Church. All that was precursed by Matthew, who was both narrowly Jewish and Universalist at the same time. Matthew stood with both Jewish and Gentile Christianity. thus for Matthew:

            The Law is valid forever 5:17,18
            Jesus' mission was limited to lost sheep of house of Israel (15:24)
            While scribes & Pharisees must not be imitated, obey what they teach (23:3)
            Jesus' sayings and actions proclaim a message which is universal
            The disciples are to show love for all without distinction, mirroring Fr. in heaven (5:43)
            When the Kingdom co0mes, many will be gathered from East and West (8:11,12)
            Matthew quotes prophesy that "in his Name will Gentiles trust" (12:21)
            Parable of Wicked Husbandmen describes ascendancy of Gentile church (21:33-43)
            In the Parable of the Last Judgment - all nations shall be gathered.


Matthew's Geneology (1:1ff.) the Greek word is "The Genesis" . . .much as John begins his Gospel,  
"in the beginning".

Unique in Matthew's Gospel,  five women mentioned (four with odd sexual history)
                        Zerah by Tamar
                        Salmon, father of Boaz by Rahab (the prostitute)
                        Ruth and Boaz
                        Solomon, by the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba)
                        Jacob, father of Joseph, husband of Mary.
            Note: a friend of mine, Doug Adams, wrote a book, "The Prostitute in the Family Tree."

In Mt.1:23  Matthew quotes Isaiah, "a virgin shall conceive." Isaiah's "virgin" meant "(young woman" with no connotation of sexual history. The phrase in our creeds about the Virgin Mary was inserted as testimony to th humanness of Jesus' birth - against various heresies.

The Wise Men (from Micah) were not three, but a group of some size). In our popular depiction of the three wise men, note that they represent the known world, as one is Semitic, one Asian, and one Caucasian. What is not widely known is that scholars, in studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, have determined that myhrr means "meatball casserole," thus indicating that at least one of the wise men was Lutheran.

The Flight into Egypt - unique to Matthew. Remember, Jesus is the best known refugee in human history - Moses is second.  That experience is reflected in much of Jesus's reflections on his own life: "Foxes have holes and birds have their nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head," and in the Prologue to John's Gospel, "he came to his own and his own received  him not."

Slaughter of Innocents (from Jeremiah) as is Jesus' association with Nazareth.

Baptism - using words of Isaiah.

Sermon on Mount - Note the power of Jesus' words to the crowds (and us), "You are the light of the world," no "You ought to be," or you better be." A simple and most powerful "You are. . "

My favorite story in the Gospels:  Matthew 8:20ff.  Jesus heals the demoniac in the Gerascenes and sends the evil spirits into the onlookers flocks/herds which then throw themselves to their death over a cliff. Jesus is either asked to leave - or leaves by losing himself in the crowd and then skeedaddling. Luke's version of the story is relatively benign. Matthew has fewer details than in Mark. (my favorite performance piece is based on this story)

Call of disciples 9:9 followed by charge in following chapter. What is especially striking in these and other stories of the calling of Jesus' disciples is that in leaving everything at once, there must have been something extraordinarily compelling in Jesus' appearance or invitation. This, for me, is also the point of many of the healings and miracles - they point to something incredibly compelling in the person of Jesus;.

First Parable - Chapter 13

Workers in the Vineyard - often overlooked, it is one of the most powerful in dealing with radical inclusion, e.g. the steward keeps coming back to hire those available for work - strong men and boys first, then less strong and probably older men, then the stronger women, then the marginalized, many of which probably just woke up after a lifetime of drinking. . . .

Other parables only in Matthew  (Pearl, Treasure, Wheat and Weeds, Unmerciful Servant)
The Jesus Seminar scholars rate Matthew's Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard as  RED, one of the few that are reliably Jesus' parables in Jesus' words. (worth another Forum)

Like Mark's Gospel, at the midpoint of the Gospel, in Caesarea Philippi - Jesus asks "Who do men say that I am. . ." everything changes, from Jesus' teaching and forming his community to his path to his death on the Cross.

The story of the children brought to him (19:13f.) is my favorite for teaching Walter Wink's method of Bible study. Wink believes that most Bible study is spiritually bankrupt, as it doesn't change anyone. Using this story I ask a group to form themselves into several small groups: the children who don't know what is going on, their parents who are intent on getting their children into Jesus' presence for his blessing, the disciples who believe Jesus wants to be protected from insignificant children, and Jesus.

Then the action begins with parents and disciples struggling, the children doing whatever they feel like doing in the midst of such anger and recriminations, and Jesus finally shoving the disciples aside.  Then the questions: Who are the children in me - sometimes confused or afraid - and sometimes knowing that we are safe and thoroughly loved? Who are the parents in me, wanting so much for myself or my family but being frustrated? Who are the disciples, living by what we thought were the rules, but discovering that we were wrong all along? And who is the Jesus in me, having to reach through all kinds of crap for what we know is right and true?

The costs of Discipleship and the path to Jerusalem.

Signs of the End, including the Last Judgment.

The Last Supper & Betrayal (how the different gospel writers treat the betraying kiss of Judas reveals one of the most powerful moments in history - more in a future Forum)

The Passion.followed by Matthew's version of the Post-Resurrection appearances by Jesus.

The final words of the Gospel, about going into the world, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are certainly thrilling; but it is clear that they were added later, as any clear notion of the Trinity had yet to be formed.
Some things from Matthew's Gospel that are unique to him.
            The women in the geneology, also Matthew begins with Abraham, Luke with Adam
            Significant differences in Birth Narratives from Luke (no birth narrative in Mark or John)
            The Story of the Wise Men
            The Flight to Egypt
            The place of Jewish Law in our lives.
            Sermon on the Mount
                        Beatitudes, "Judge Not . . .," etc..
            Various parables not in Mark or Luke

Things which may seem odd:
            Matthew is not the first Gospel, last of the Synoptics  Date 95-105
            End of Chapter 26 (end of Matthew) tacked on many years later (Trinity)
            Legendary character of several stories
                        Dream of Pilate's wife
                        Pilate washing his hands
                        Earthquake & ghostly apparitions at death of Jesus

Take your time with Matthew's gospel. There are parts which will touch you deeply.

P.S.  While you are here, you may want to check out my 15 Minute Play on Forgiveness (1/10/2012), the description of my opera which will be produced at The Cell Theatre in Albuquerque in mid-June (2/8/2011) and the aria of Bobbie Wentworth and the closing duet (both at 7/27/2012)