Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Gospel of Matthew

A little bit of geek with your gospel this week. Please bear with me.

We follow the Revised Common Lectionary in our congregation and denomination. This is a three-year schedule of readings for Sunday worship. Over the course of three years, the congregation hears a lot (but not all) of the Bible, with a special focus on the gospels.

Year A is Matthew, year B is Mark, year C is Luke. John is mixed in over all three years. Often the lessons are connected to the season. Christmas lessons for Christmas. Easter lessons for Easter.

Then, from early summer until the beginning of the new church year (Advent), the lessons are typically straight through the middle section of the gospel for the year. In other words, if you worship through the summer and fall in our congregation, you make your way slowly from about Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount) all the way to Matthew 22.

This slow engagement with one gospel. If you commit to it, it does something. You become familiar with the particular way the gospel-writer offers the story of Jesus.

There is real pleasure in it. As one of my favorite commentators on the gospels says, "There is sheer delight in rummaging around in the thoughts and words of God... it is exhilarating to be called to 'echo' God's words out into the larger world" (Frederick Dale Bruner).

When you attend closely to one gospel, you start to notice its unique characteristics. With Matthew, you might notice, for example, that it is written more directly for a Jewish audience than some of the other gospels. You might notice it uses a "kingdom of heaven" instead of "kingdom of God," likely out of respect for the Jewish tradition of not using the name of God. You might notice that Matthew is especially interested in telling the story of Jesus as fulfillment of the prophets, with as many as 130 Old Testament quotes and allusions in it. It's the only gospel that has the wise men.

Also of importance for this week, Matthew is the only gospel where Jesus speaks explicitly about "the church" (Matthew 16:18 and 18:17).

Think of it this way. All your friends have met someone. Each of them comes to you separately and tells you about this amazing person they've met. Undoubtedly, their descriptions will differ, because each of them has a unique way of perceiving the world. And yet, if they all met the same person, that person will emerge in their multiple tellings, and in fact your perception of that person will be all the richer because all your friends described them.

This is what it is like to read the gospels. Each year, we sit and hear one of our friends tell us the story of Jesus. Then the next year we hear another perspective. Over time, we gain a deeper and fuller understanding of the one we follow.

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