Tag Archives: Discipleship

Matthew 10: 1-23 Summoning and Sending the Twelve

James Tissot, The Exhortation to the Apostles (between 1886 and 1894)

 Matthew 10: 1-23

Parallels Mark 3: 13-19a; 6: 6-11; 13: 9-13; Luke 9: 1; 6: 12-16; 9: 2-5; 12: 11-12; 6: 40

Highlighted words will have comment on translation below

 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

The narrative in Matthew pushes us into these moments where the words of Jesus are used to reveal what the nature of discipleship will be for those called to follow (or in this case be sent by) Jesus. This block of teaching, sometimes called the ‘missionary discourse’ or the ‘apostolic discourse’ forms a cohesive unit of instruction for Matthew while Mark and Luke scatter these words throughout their gospels. Matthew remains a skilled editor, bringing together units in a way that is easy to remember and in sections that can easily be used to instruct future generations of those entrusted to proclaim the message of the kingdom of heaven’s presence among the earth. While this portion of the story is directed towards the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ it will continue to resonate for those who read this passage post-resurrection where apostles are sent beyond Israel to Samaria, the surrounding region of the Gentiles and to all the nations with the message and authority of the risen Christ.

The number twelve is symbolic in Israel, representing the twelve tribes named for the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel). In summoning twelve disciples Jesus symbolically has chosen one person to represent each of the lost tribes of Israel. The authority Jesus shares with them has been demonstrated in the previous two chapters of healings and exorcisms by Jesus and now the disciples are to exercise the same authority. The naming of the twelve disciples/apostles has a few interesting notes: we are introduced to the two sets of brothers in Matthew 4: 18-22, and unlike Mark and Luke we learn that  Matthew is noted to be the tax collector introduced in Matthew 9: 9-13. Even though the ministry is to the lost sheep of Israel, the second Simon is noted as ‘the Cananaean’ (Luke titles presumably the same Simon as Simon the Zealot) and finally there is the oft discussed title of Judas, Judas Iscariot. We often think of people having last names, but when someone is given a second addition to their name in ancient times it is a way of linking either to family (typically proceeded by son of…) or some other descriptor. Iscariot could be a linkage to the Sicarii, a group of Jewish Zealots prior to the fall of the temple in 70 CE who strongly opposed Rome’s rule in Judea (the name comes from the daggers they concealed under their cloaks). If Judas is linked to the Zealots then it could explain his later betrayal of Jesus and would make this group that Jesus called a diverse group: uniting fishermen, tax collectors, zealots and perhaps even a non-Jew. Regardless of origins, the twelve disciples will be instrumental in the continued witness of Jesus’ ministry and meaning in the time after the resurrection.

These twelve apostles (apostle means ‘one sent out’) are now joined to this continued reconstitution of the people of God. The title ‘lost sheep’ echoes Jeremiah:

My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains; from mountain to hill they have gone, they have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, “We are not guilty, because they have sinned against the LORD, the true pasture, the LORD, the hope of their ancestors.   Jeremiah 50: 6-7, see also the language of Ezekiel 34 (although the term lost sheep is not used)

The Greek term for lost, apollumi, is a word that normally means destroyed, killed, or perished (the Hebrew term in Jeremiah can also have these meanings in addition to lost). In combination with the later message about being lambs going among the wolves, those who have devoured, the language poetically evokes, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both a God who can bring new life out of death, can re-gather a decimated flock and whose presence makes new realities possible, but also that these activities will be resisted. Yet, the sending is a message of hope, not judgment. As Richard B. Hays can state:

Matthew 10, however, show no interest in pronouncing judgment on the people for straying from the fold. Rather, Jesus is portrayed as sending the disciples out to rescue and regather them, because “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (10:7). (Hays, 2016, p. 129)

The proclamation that the ‘kingdom of heaven has come near’ is identical to the gospel that Jesus proclaims in Matthew 4: 23 but the word euangellion which is translated gospel or good news is not present in the Greek. Regardless the apostles are sent as heralds of the approaching kingdom of God in both words and actions which are identical to those already demonstrated by Jesus. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” evokes the healing narratives in Matthew 8-9 which those reading the gospel, or hearing it read, have just encountered. They are to do this not for financial gain, they are not to use these powers entrusted to them to accumulate wealth or power, but instead (in the order the Greek renders it) “without cost you received, without cost give.”

The word translated take in verse 9 is ktaomai which is better translated acquire, and probably has less to do with what the disciples may take for their journey than continuing to emphasize that they received without cost and they are to give without cost. Laborers deserve their food, but they are not to accumulate precious metals, additional clothing or items for their journey. They are to rely on the hospitality of the people to be provided for during their stay with them, but they are not to use this commissioning as a means to accumulate. They are to find a worthy person to receive their message and to be their host, they are to offer their blessing of peace to that home so long as the home is worthy and shows them hospitality. They are the heralds of the message, but they cannot ensure its reception and if they are not received with hospitality then they are to depart without even the dust of the town or home that wouldn’t receive them. Those places are guilty of the same violation that Sodom made when the angels visited their town and Lot’s home in Genesis 19, they did not extend hospitality and they were hostile to the emissaries of God’s kingdom. While the apostles carry a message of hope, Jesus’ words point to the necessity of receiving this message for the approach of the kingdom of heaven is joyous for those who receive it with joy but judgment for those aligned against it.

Just as verse seven looked back to chapters eight and nine with the apostles now doing the very things that Jesus did, now in verses 16-23 the persecutions that those sent out with the message entrusted to them by Jesus will encounter the same reception that Jesus receives. Being handed over to councils and synagogues (26: 1-5; 26: 57-68), dragged before governors and kings (27: 1-2, 11-26), being betrayed by brothers (which can also reference not only physical connection but also may reference being betrayed by other believers as with Judas 26: 47-51). (Allen, 2013, p. 105) They are sent out to the lost sheep of Israel as sheep themselves, subject to the same dangers from those who have previously devoured the flock. They are called on to be shrewd and at the same time not to adopt the practices of those who have left the flock in such a decimated state. They will receive the same treatment that Jesus did, and though Matthew doesn’t share the gospel of John’s imagery of Jesus being the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ these sheep, like Jesus will be handed over to death for the sake of the world.

Those carrying this proclamation will be hated because they represent a challenge to those who have been the shepherd, both political and religious, to the flock and have fattened themselves off the flock. The shepherd have turned out to be wolves, brothers may become betrayers and in the acidic words of Johnathan Swift these wolves or shepherds or brothers have “just enough religion to make us hate one another—but not enough to make us love one another” (Case-Winters, 2015, p. 159) The disciples are to be something different, to have enough ‘religion’ or faith to make us love one another, to perceive the advance of the kingdom of heaven against the forces that keep people enslaved, possessed, sick and injured. They are not to practice the ways of the shepherds who became wolves by accumulating the possessions and wealth of the sheep they were to care for, but instead to trust that they have what they need for the ministry they are sent into. The world may be a dangerous place but there are worthy homes and people who are willing to practice hospitality and to hear their proclamation. These apostles have no time for places unreceptive to their message and resistant to the kingdom of heaven. They merely are to shake off the dust and walk (or flee) to the next town, for there are more towns in Israel than they can cover. The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are relatively few.

Matthew 8: 18-22 The Nature of Discipleship part 1

Matthew 8: 18-22

Parallel Luke 9: 57-62

18 Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Matthew’s gospel uses rhythm to help reveal meaning. Previously in chapter eight we’ve seen Matthew use a pattern of three healing stories which climax in the scriptural citation that Jesus is the one who ‘took our infirmities and bore our diseases’ to disclose who Jesus is. Each healing narrative build upon the preceding narrative to help illuminate who Jesus is through what Jesus does. Structures of three are common in ancient literature and here Matthew will use two interconnected patterns of three to continue to help the hearer answer the interconnected questions of who is Jesus? and what does it mean to follow him?

Sometimes it is helpful to see the structure graphically

Miracle story 1 (Matthew 8: 1-4) Healing the person with a skin disease
Miracle story 2 (Matthew 8: 5-14) Healing the centurion’s son
Miracle story 3 (Matthew 8:14-17) Healing Peter’s mother-in-law…healing all
Explanation ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’
Nature of Discipleship: (Matthew 8: 18-22)A scribe and a disciple
Miracle story 1 (Matthew 8: 23-27) Jesus stills a storm
Miracle story 2 (Matthew 8: 28-9:1) Jesus casts out demons from two men
Miracle story 3 (Matthew 9:2-9:8) Jesus heals a paralytic
Explanation ‘God…had given such authority to human beings’
Nature of Discipleship: (Matthew 9:9-17) Call of Matthew and question on
Fasting
Miracle story 1 (Matthew 9: 18-26) Woman and girl healed/raised
Miracle story 2 (Matthew 9: 27-31) Jesus heals two blind men
Miracle story 3 (Matthew 9: 32-34) Healing mute demoniac
Explanation ‘Never has anything been seen like this’ vs. ‘By demons he casts out
demons’
Nature of Discipleship: (Matthew 9:35-11:1) Jesus prepares disciples for
Proclamation

Matthew’s gospel is focused on helping form a community that will continue to follow Jesus amid the challenges of the world around them. From the placement of the sermon on the mount early in the ministry of Jesus to the regular interweaving of teaching and narrative we see Matthew exploring who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. Being a disciple of Jesus will involve embodying a different set of values and practices that will be visible to the surrounding world. As Matthew invites us back to considering the nature of discipleship, we are given several clues within this dialogue with the scribe and the disciple to suggest what the follower is needs to hear about the nature of discipleship even at this early stage in the gospel.

Titles matter in Matthew and the help the reader to gain insight about how each person approaches Jesus. While there are multiple titles used in Matthew’s gospel to help illuminate who Jesus is, Matthew deploys these titles carefully in the mouths of different petitioners. The scribe who comes to Jesus uses the title ‘teacher’ and although Jesus can use this term when referring to himself (Matthew 10: 24,25; 23:8 and 26:18) when it is spoken by someone else it is normally is used when people are challenging Jesus’ identity (Matthew 9:11; 12: 38; 17: 24; 19:16; 22:16; 22:24; 22:36). This scribe who approaches Jesus seems to have positive intentions in the narrative but the initial title and the way he is titled (as a scribe) hints that this scribe probably does not follow Jesus ‘wherever he goes.’ Jesus’ response to the scribe is a challenge, but as we saw in the healing of the centurion’s son when Jesus’ challenges someone there is the opportunity to respond with trust. The other hint we are given is that the scribe is the initiator of the offer of following Jesus rather than Jesus (as in the disciple’s case).

The second in dialogue with Jesus is labeled as a disciple and they come to Jesus asking for permission to do what is expected in a family relationship. We don’t know the condition of the father, whether he has already died, is very sick or whether the disciple is stating, “Once my father dies, then I can follow you” but we do know that Jesus provides resistance to this qualification. Jesus initiates the call using the same words he used with Peter and Andrew (and presumably James and John) in Matthew 4: 19 and will later use for Matthew in Matthew 9:9. We are given two verbal clues that this disciple does follow Jesus, even after the challenge to ‘let the dead bury their own dead.’

The nature of discipleship in Matthew seems to be called rather than chosen. Others outside the disciples may demonstrate great faith, often more than the disciples themselves demonstrate. Outsiders may see what the disciples struggle to see and yet, those who are disciples in Matthew are invited into this group by Jesus. It is critical for Matthew to link Jesus’ identity to the witness of scriptures, but here an interpreter of those scriptures, a scribe, is challenged and presumably does not get into the boat with his disciples, while his disciples, even one who leaves behind a father who will need to be buried, get into the boat to go away from home. Even though Jesus does seem to operate out of Capernaum as a base of operations for portions of Matthew, he will also continue to travel and send his disciples to travel to towns and villages where they are unknown. The disciples will be separated from the support of home and family as they become a part of the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. In Jesus they will discover one who is more important than the other commitments and callings of life. In entering the journey with Jesus, they will leave behind other things, but those who get into the boat with him have been called to be there and wonder ‘What sort of man he is.’

Matthew 4: 18-25 Snagging the Fishers for Humanity and Spreading the Kingdom

Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-1311)

Matthew 4: 18-25

Parallel Mark 1: 16-20, Luke 5: 1-11; John 1: 35-51

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

The kingdom of heaven may have established a foothold in Capernaum, but now that kingdom and its representative will begin its infiltration of the surrounding region of Galilee. Jesus will go out and actively begin selecting those who will participate in fishing for people and begin to drive out the forces of sickness and demonic possession that have kept the people in the darkness. Matthew condenses the call of his first disciples and the initial acts of healing and casting out of demons into a short space to bring us to Jesus’ teaching on the mountain but this scene is necessary to set the scene for this extended teaching and the crowds that are coming to hear him.

Capernaum is on the north bank of the Sea of Galilee, so Jesus would not have to move far to find fishermen along the bank of the sea. Even though Jesus may not need to move far in seeking these first followers the action of a teacher going and seeking students is unusual in a culture where a Rabbi would set up a school and disciples would seek out the teacher. Yet, the initiative will rest with Jesus in the call, and when others seek Jesus out as potential disciples (Matthew 8: 19-22) they will learn this is a difficult, if not impossible task. We do not know how long Jesus has been in Capernaum proclaiming the kingdom of heaven or if the four fishermen knew him prior to being called but these fishermen will serve as a model of responding faithfully to Jesus’ call. There is resonance with the call that Jesus extends to the disciples and the call of Abram in Genesis 12 where God calls Abram to leave their kindred, their fathers house and go to a land that God will show them. Yet, initially, the disciples will not leave their country, but they will leave behind their vocations and family.

The fishermen are often portrayed as ‘poor fishermen’ but there is no indication that they were poor or that what they were leaving behind was not a stable and sustainable existence. Probably the closest analogy to our time would be small business owners who have enough invested in their business to have a boat and nets, food to eat and homes to live in, money to pay the taxes on the fish they catch and the ability to transport (and process) caught fish for sale. This was a family enterprise that relied upon family members upholding their part of the work of fishing, mending nets, maintaining boats, and selling their catch and the removal of sons from their positions in the family business would have presented a challenge for the remaining family members. Yet, Peter and Andrew and James and John all go when called, leaving their families, their business and their way of life behind. The boats may still be there, and they may still at times fish, but their primary fishing will be kingdom related rather than profit related.

Against the background of the use of fishing metaphors in the scriptures we see the imagery of fishing being used for the regathering of Israel.

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.
I am now sending for many fishermen, says the LORD, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. Jeremiah 16: 14-16 

How one reads this portion of Jeremiah can be tricky. It can be read, as Richard B. Hays reads it by pulling on the verses that immediately follow what I have quoted above, “the “fishermen” whom God is summoning are agents of judgment, hauling people in so that God can “repay their iniquity and their sin.”” (Hays, 2016, p. 24). Jeremiah 16 is about a new beginning, but only after judgment and exile. I read this portion of Jeremiah 16 as an ingathering of the people after the prophesied judgment. Fishing imagery can be used in terms of judgment (see for example Amos 4: 1-2) but I do believe the theme of gathering in the dispersed people is behind the scriptural resonance here.

The disciples leave their boat and follow, they respond faithfully and these ‘little faith ones’ will become models of what being a disciple of Jesus is for future generations of followers. Jesus has shown the initiative, issued the call and these four men have responded. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say in Discipleship, “Discipleship is not a human offer. The call alone justifies it.” (DBWE 4: 63) Jesus, for Matthew and the disciple, is no ordinary rabbi or teacher. Although these four disciples probably do not recognize the significance of the one calling them, Matthew has been trying to get us to hear through his various uses of scriptural quotation and resonance the that Jesus is more than just a herald of the kingdom of heaven. The disciples in Jesus’ time and of all times will have to puzzle about the identity and significance of Jesus during their following but like the ‘little faith ones’ called from their fishing boats we are also called to look for the inbreaking signs of the kingdom of heaven as we travel through the world.

Jesus moves, teaches and acts as Matthew prepares us for the first concentrated block of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Mark’s gospel will focus on what Jesus does, but Matthew wants those who are disciples to gather with the crowd to hear Jesus teach. Yet, Jesus and the kingdom of heaven are also known by what Jesus does. His fame spreads by his teaching and his healing and exorcisms. The inbreaking kingdom of heaven casts out sickness, disease, pain, the demon possessed, and those broken in mind or body. Jesus’ power overcomes all these barriers to the people realizing the wholeness and healing of the kingdom of heaven. His fame is said to spread throughout Syria, one of the reasons some interpreters believe Matthew’s gospel was written in Syria, but it may also be the shining of the light in Galilee to the nations, the Gentiles. It may also be a part of the theme of the ingathering of Israel which is already occurring from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond the Jordan and this may be the early catch of God’s fishermen beginning to gather the dispersed people out of the land of the north.

Authority and power rest with Jesus: authority to heal and make whole and the authority to teach in the synagogues and soon on the mountain. The crowds are beginning to gather, the initial fishers of humanity have been called and the kingdom of heaven has been announced and embodied. Matthew has set the groundwork for us to hear the Sermon on the Mount, for Jesus to teach us what being it will mean to be a covenant to the people and a light to the nations. Perhaps we, like the fishermen have been snared. Perhaps we, like the sick, diseased, broken or possessed have been healed and seen the kingdom of heaven’s work in our lives. We are now prepared to go up with the disciples to listen as Jesus talks both to us and the rest of the crowd.

Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew

Barent Fabritius, Saint Matthew and the Angel (1656)

The Gospel of Matthew is a book that has generated countless books and studies and continues to be one of the most read and preached upon books in the bible. Writing about this gospel is, to use the words of Stanley Hauerwas, “an honor, a burden, and a daunting task.” (Hauerwas, 2006, p. 18) On the one hand, as a pastor who deals with the gospels on an almost weekly basis there is a greater familiarity with these texts and with the various scholarly perspectives on them. On the other hand, to take up a project like this is a burden and daunting task because it attempts to capture years of learning, study, and remain open to new discoveries. There are scholars who dedicate their entire life work to Matthew’s gospel or even to a small portion of it like the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, to the casual reader many of the commentaries and works of interpretation on the bible may be unapproachable because they are written for those who have an insider’s knowledge of the world of Biblical studies.

The Gospel of Matthew gives us a window into Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching and by extension the world he did his living, ministry and teaching within. Both the time of Jesus life and the time when Matthew’s gospel was written were times:

when there was conflict and division in the community of faith;
when some were insiders and others were outsiders;
when political and religious leaders were coopted, mistrusted, and discredited;
when the great majority of the common people were without power;
when cultures clashed. (Case-Winters, 2015, p. 1)

In 2015 I wrote a guide based on a class I taught on Mark’s gospel and Mark’s portrait of Jesus and the world he lived in and many of the things addressed in that series apply to reading Matthew. If you want to read more as an introduction about the Kingdom of God (or in Matthew frequently kingdom of heaven) in contrast to the Kingdom of Satan, the Roman Empire as a setting for the gospel, Second Temple Judaism as a setting for the gospel, the gospel writers as interpreters of scripture, structure and some other topics I would invite you to these brief introductions below:

Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 1
Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 2
Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 3
Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 4
Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 5

There are a few additional topics I want to introduce prior to beginning my journey through Matthew’s gospel.

Gospel Parallels

Matthew, Mark and Luke share a lot of material in common while John occasionally will have a common story but in general will narrate Jesus life and teaching in an independent manner. Where there are stories or teaching that are shared between Matthew and other gospels, I will list the parallels as a subtitle for the section. For those who have not studied the gospels they may not be aware of the similarities and difference among Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew, Mark and Luke are often called the synoptic gospels (syn-with, together; optic-relating to eye or sight: they are the gospels that share similar patterns, stories and often word for word correspondence). Mark is the shortest of the gospels and is believed by most modern scholars to be the oldest. The authors of Matthew and Luke probably had access to Mark’s gospel and added material to that to compose their own gospels. There is also material that Matthew and Luke share that are not a part of Mark’s gospel and scholars have often labeled this material shared in common as ‘Q’ from the German ‘Quelle’ or source.  Whether there is an independent source behind these shared sayings in Matthew, Luke and the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas or whether Matthew is the second gospel written and the source of the common material is something that can interest scholars but for most readers of the gospel it is helpful to understand that there are parallels are shared between Matthew and Luke in addition to the material that is present in Mark and in addition to the material that is unique to each gospel. Each gospel writer does bring specific accents to their portrayal of Jesus, but I do think it is helpful to see what they share and how the similarities and the accents give us a richer picture of Jesus and his teaching.

Matthew as an Interpreter of Scripture

Matthew invites us into his world viewed through the lenses of a scripture formed imagination. Even though Matthew will use explicit quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) far more than any other gospel writer the entire gospel is permeated with allusions and imagery from the law, prophets, psalms, wisdom literature and story of the Jewish people. Matthew’s reading of scripture is shaped by the merciful and inclusive reading that comes out of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea which expands the promises of God’s covenant beyond the boundaries of the Hebrew people. As Richard B. Hays can state:

Thus, for Matthew, the story of Israel is carried forward through a particular, prophetically shaped, interpretation of Torah within a community called to embody the mercy of God. Emphasis authors (Hays, 2016, pp. 127-128)

Matthew’s scripture formed imagination hears within the story of Jesus both a continuity with and an expansion of the story of the people of Israel and their relationship with the Lord, the God of Israel. Throughout this journey I will attempt to highlight the way Matthew uses both the explicit quotations and the implicit allusions to scripture to show how these all give Matthew’s gospel a fuller exposition of who Jesus is, what he teaches and what it means for those who are now invited to become a part of this story.

Matthew, Discipleship and a Meaningful Life

The name Matthew means disciple and from beginning to end the gospel is for the formation of a community of disciples who will follow Jesus in the world. Most readers of Matthew may reflect upon the Great Commission at the end of the gospel with its command to ‘make disciples of all nations’ but the entire book in both its narrative and teaching is forming the follower to first become a disciple themselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic work the Cost of Discipleship, originally published in 1937, attempted to capture this for the church of his day by returning to the Sermon on the Mount as the center of this journey behind Christ. Unfortunately, discipleship has become a term that churches may use frequently but I think many people may wonder why they would follow Jesus, especially when it means picking up one’s cross to follow him, when they have been taught they can simply believe in him. For Matthew, and for us as readers of Matthew, the key comes in understanding what it means to live a meaningful life. In Matthew’s scripture formed view of the world a meaningful life is a life lived in harmony with God’s will for the creation. For the Jewish mind the will of God for the creation is expressed in God’s law, or Torah, and God’s Torah is a gift that enables one to live the life God intends. Matthew points the hearer to Jesus interpreting God’s law to show how one can live the wise and righteous life that God intends. Following Jesus becomes a school where the student slowly learns the blessing of a life of shalom (peace, harmony) in contrast to the cares of the world.

Reading the Gospel as a Story

Matthew’s gospel has multiple genres: genealogy, narrative, teaching, and parables for example, but fundamentally Matthew tells us a story. Matthew’s story is theological in nature, it talks about God and God’s kingdom and how Jesus is God us. If you’ve read any of my other writing on scripture, you’ll find I stay close to the text as I write, I’ll bring in historical elements as the illuminate the story but primarily I want to enhance rather than distract from the story Matthew wants us to hear. Sometimes the story may differ dramatically from how we would tell a story, no modern writer would probably begin a narrative with a long genealogy but for Matthew this makes a critical connection to what comes before. Matthew will use clues, some visible in English translations and some not, that help us frame and give structure to the gospel of Jesus Christ he tells.

Conversation Partners on this Journey

I learn as I walk along the journey. I have several works on Matthew that I have read over the years, but the following are ones I will either be reading for the first time or who I intentionally want to re-engage as we move systematically through the Gospel of Matthew:

Allen, O. Wesley, Jr. Matthew (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013)

Relatively recent work on Matthew and one of two commentaries I will be reading through as I do these reflections.  First of the Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries series I have looked at.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001 (1937)) Cited as DBWE 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, English volume 4)

Bonhoeffer’s classic work that I read for the first time at the beginning of my seminary education in 2000. I’ve read it multiple times but particularly with the Sermon on the Mount I’m interested to reread it considering where I think this project is going.

Case-Winters, Anna, Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Publishing, 2015)

I’ve used several of the Belief Theological Commentaries in other places and they’ve proven to be a good conversation partner. The authors in this series are not biblical scholars but instead theologians so they bring slightly different gifts and perspectives to the process, but I’ve been impressed with the series volumes I’ve used.

Hays, Richard B. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016)

Richard B. Hays is one of the most insightful readers of scripture I have found. This book and the earlier Reading Backwards examine the four gospel writers as interpreters of scripture.

Luther, Martin, The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, (St. Louis: Concordia Press, 1956) Cited as LW 21

When possible I’ve gone back to read Luther’s perspective on scripture to help me understand my own tradition. Luther was a phenomenal reader of scripture for his age. His work on the Sermon on the Mount wrestles with it theologically within Luther’s idea of the Kingdom of God and the Secular Kingdom (often called Luther’s two kingdom theology). There are some useful insights even if I know that there will be several places I take a very different perspective than Luther.