The Scroll of Matthew

The Scroll of Matthew

This is the first volume in a new series of "reader guides" to the New Testament. It is not a commentary but seeks to lead the reader through the Gospel of Matthew, helping to read it with insight and as a call to action for the coming of God's Kingdom. Nine more volumes will follow, covering the whole of the New Testament.

  • A sample from inside the text

    The Scroll of Jesus of Nazareth according to Matthew

    Matthew’s Gospel for Quisling Tax Collectors and Other Deviants

    Bruce C Wearne

     

    Introduction

    What follows is a “reading” of a seemingly innocent passage from Matthew’s Gospel that suggests that what we find “on the Biblical page” is filled with material that relates to political responsibility. I am suggesting that this account of the life of Jesus Christ gives us decisive teaching, showing us the way to fulfil our political responsibility in our time. Matthew tells us how the Lord God, in Jesus Christ the Son of God, actively brought about a “new creation,” redeeming our human responsibility in all of its aspects.

    This book then, a reading of Matthew’s Gospel, is written to illustrate how it is characterised in toto by this affirmation as its leit-motif:

    It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6, see Matt 9: 13).

    This is the Gospel account of a tax-collector who wrote with fellow tax collectors in view. He was evidently intensely concerned for outsiders and Gentiles; they too needed to hear the Good News of Israel’s Messiah.

    The opening song of the Sermon on the Mount reminds us:

    A blessing rests on those who are merciful; mercy will be shown to them (Matthew 5:7).

    The Lord's Prayer reiterates this:

    Remit us the debts we have incurred against you as we remit the debts incurred against us (Matthew 6:12).

    Indeed, as we follow the Sermon on the Mount on the Biblical page, we are provoked deeply, and it suggests that what Jesus taught made a most significant impact upon the way this scribe, Matthew, a former Tax Collector, understood his own place in the Kingdom of Heaven!

    Matthew’s life was changed by Jesus bringing the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Galilean region. The Rabbi from Nazareth and his closest disciples lived day-by-day with the challenges that arose in the crowds flocking to hear him. These crowds arose at first from the encouragement of Jesus’ cousin, the remarkable John the Baptist, and they grew in the wake of his arrest and murder:

    And as he went around from place to place around the Galilean region, Jesus was teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. Because he was healing every disease and all kinds of afflictions among the people, his fame also spread across all of Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan (Matthew 4:23-25).

    We have to wait until we are right into the story of this ministry before Matthew tells us how it was, while serving as a tax-collector (Matthew 9:9; 10:3), that he received Jesus’ call to follow him. And when we, 21st century readers, come to that point – not being in a position to consult Peter or John or those who were in touch with the Apostles for further information on this fellow – we are prodded to go back and re-read the earlier parts of this extensive chronology and carefully note Matthew’s nuanced account. We will do some cross-referencing with other Gospels to get a sense of what was going on and of why Matthew framed his account in the precise way it has come to us.

    We note Matthew’s focus. From reading the early chapters we conclude that he was reliant, in some way, upon the story Joseph gave about the early life of Jesus (see Chapters 1 and 2). This need not mean he knew Joseph face-to-face. He may have done. But we do not know that. But what we do have is a story of Jesus’ early life in which Joseph actively cared for his adopted son, and also before the child was born.

    And then we jump with Matthew, perhaps 25 years or thereabouts, to read of the arrival of John to begin his work in the wilderness (Matthew 3:1). And it reads as if John is, in some way, the MC of some still-to-be-disclosed event, as we are informed of the arrival of Jesus from Galilee to be baptised in the Jordan. Matthew does not tell us what John, as reported by Luke, said to the tax-collectors who came for baptism:

    Quit this workplace habit of taking a bit on the side, which has become a feature of your tax-collecting work – you are answerable in your employment to the Anointed of the God of Israel and he is on his way! (see Luke 3:14-15)

    Comparing the lists of Jesus’ Twelve, his specially selected disciples, we discover that Matthew’s other name was Levi (Luke 5:27-32). The feast Levi threw for other tax-collectors and sinners was the occasion when the public opposition to Jesus gained momentum from the opposition of the Pharisees and the Torah Scribes (γραμματεις).

    This Gospel’s list of the specially selected Twelve (Matthew 10:2-4) certainly lists Matthew as the tax collector, and as we proceed we will certainly conclude it was an insider of the Apostolic group who wrote it. Mark confirms that the tax-collector was “Matthew, son of Alphaeus,” and he had a brother James, the “other” James who was also an Apostle (Mark 2:13-17; 3:13-19). Matthew’s call comes in his narrative after the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7, 9:9-14) And in that sense this Gospel is intent upon the message of Hosea that Matthew connects to his own call. Jesus rebutted the criticism of religious leaders that he should not have been consorting with Matthew. He belonged to the wrong crowd. Jesus redirected them in their criticism to the prophet Hosea:

    It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6, see Matthew 9:13).

    So Jesus would be known by the company he kept. The crowds came to know him and his closest companions. Once he realised that Isaiah 61 and all the other Messianic prophecies referred to himself, Jesus taught those who came to him what the prophets had revealed concerning Israel’s Messiah. And his preparation for this, Matthew tells us (Matthew 4:1-11), was of a most rigorous and agonising time of privation and cruel testing when the devil (διάβολος) confronted him. Jesus identified this inquisitor as Satan (Σατανᾶς).

    These temptations had begun before his ministry had gathered momentum, and took place in the wilderness for forty days and nights. And Matthew’s Scroll, as the documentation of these temptations, should be read in its entirety as the continuation of these right up until his dying breath (see Matthew 4:3, 6, 9 and compare with 27:40-44). This part of the story also gives us knowledge about the context in which Jesus’ disciples are to pray,

    Lead us not into temptation.

    Or,

    Father in Heaven, Please ensure we don’t have to undergo the temptations that were thrown at Your Son!

    Clearly, Jesus was aware of a temptation to use the mass appeal of his teaching to meet his own needs, to embellish his own grandeur. And so, he is depicted in all Gospels as one deeply aware of the impact of his teaching, and how it was that his power could function within the Tempter’s deceitful strategy. Without obedient resistance such temptations would wreak immeasurable havoc, capture God’s elect sons and daughters and once more ensure that slavery's net of unrighteousness would prevail in the lives of those carrying the Divine image.


     

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