Not sure if I ever posted this…
December 5, 2010 – Advent 2A
Christ roots us. (Satterlee.) Rerooting? It may become easy to be smug in our religious roots.
Isaiah 11:1-10 – A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse. … The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 –
Romans 15:4-13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 3:1-12 – In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. ‘I baptize you withwater for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
There’s something really fresh and engaging about John the Baptist’s direct approach. It’s honest: his blunt irritation with the Pharisees and Saducees. Don’t even think that being a child of Abraham gets you brownie points. God can make children of Abraham out of rocks.
The thrust of this passage is preparation for the one who is to come. It’s like the Matthian Grunewald, surreeal crucifixion that has John the Baptist at the foot of the cross pointing at Jesus with the oversized finger. “I baptize you with water… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Fire cleanses and purifies.
Here’s a broad look at our Matthean year. Then I’d like to discuss Powell’s pastoral theology of Matthew.
How is Matthew used in Year A?
Advent: Matthew 24, 3, 11 and 1
Christmas: Luke 2, Matthew 2, John 1
Epiphany: Matthew 2-7
Transfiguration: Matthew 17
Lent: Matthew 6, 4, 17, 21, 26, 27 (and Lent 3: John 4 (woman at the well), Lent 4: John 9 (healing of the man born blind, Lent 5: John 11 (raising of Lazarus)
Three Days: John Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter (option for Matthew 28 Easter Day)
Easter Season: All John and Luke
Summer: Matthew 7-16
Fall: Matthew 18-25
So, in the first part of the year, Matthew is used seasonally, with helpings of Luke and John. Infancy narrative in Christmas, early ministry in Epiphany and finally his Passion in Lent. Then, after Pentecost we begin a gentle march through the center of Matthew’s gospel: chapters 7-25. Summer is pre-transfiguration (7-16, and Fall is post-transfiguration (18-25).
At the beginning of a new church year, it’s always fun to read a new book on Matthew. I read Powell’s book, which isn’t new, but new to me. I’m more familiar with approaching a book of the Bible from an exegetical standpoint than a pastoral/mission/ministry standpoint, so this was fun. Next I’m starting Craig Keener’s book, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. It’s a reworking of an earlier book, so I hope I’m not disappointed. I’ll let you know.
So much research has been done in the last ten years on the realities of life and culture in first century Judea, Samaria and Galilee, and on the relationship of the early church to the various Jewish sects, I really like to keep up with this stuff. But these two books called to me. I also like to have a commentary close at hand in case I get curious about this or that. Anyway, on to Powell.
God with Us
Mark Alan Powell
Mark Powell is a professor at my own Alma Mater, Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. His book approaches Mark from a pastoral perspective. Most books on Matthew approach it from a systematically theological perspective: What are Matthew’s Christology, soteriology, eschatology, ethics? Powell’s hope is that looking at Matthew through a pastoral/ministry lens might offer new insights into Matthew’s perspective.
The book has five chapters:
5. SOCIAL JUSTICE
Powell points out that Matthew’s gospel comes to a close without the mission having been accomplished. Not only have the disciples not preached the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 24), they have not preached it anywhere. Not only have they not made disciples of all nations (Matthew 28), they have not made any disciples. Matthew’s gospel ends in a way that feels somewhat incomplete. Unlike Luke, with Matthew we don’t get the rest of the story.
What is the mission of Jesus in Matthew’s terms? Powell points out Jesus’ relationship to the law. Sometimes he relaxes it, other times intensifies it, but it seems clear in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ mission is to be the fulfiller of the law. Powell puts in one column all the verses in which Jesus lays out his sense of his own mission, and in another the verses in which he spells out the mission of the church. The juxtaposition sparks new insights. The earthly, eschatological and ethical imperatives of the kingdom cannot be fulfilled until he returns, but until then, the mission of God begun in Jesus is to be carried out by the church. There are challenges for us here.
Worship is not as prominent a theme in Matthew as in Luke. There are no major works on worship in Matthew. Powell begins with a study of the eight words Matthew uses for worship. Then he looks at those who worship in Matthew: the Magi, the leper, the crowds, a ruler, Jesus, the disciples, a Canaanite woman, the mother of James and John, children. He points out 13 explicit acts of worship.
There are several different kinds of worship in Matthew’s gospel. Some pray with requests. There is an economy to worship in Matthew’s gospel. Your heavenly Father already knows what you need, so there’s no need to heap up empty phrases like the hypocrites. Sown respond with worship to healing. Others are overwhelmed with the presence of God, as in the transfiguration. People respond in Matthew sometimes with joy and sometimes fear, awe or doubt. The disciples are afraid when they hear God’s voice at the transfiguration.
Finally, Powell points out the diversity of worshippers. They are of all ages. 1/3 are women, 2/3 men. They vary ethnically and economically.
Teaching is, of course, part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28, or at least obeying Jesus’ teaching. However, this is the only place it is mentioned as a post-Easter event. Jesus’ mission is teaching, preaching and healing, but teaching is conspicuously absent from the disciples’ job description. In fact Jesus explicitly forbids them to allow people to call them rabbi, father or catechists.
But Matthew 28 makes it clear that teaching is one of the ways the church makes disciples. Powell explores what is to be taught, by whom and to whom? The results of allowing Matthew to not be invaded (for a moment) by Mark, Luke and John are interesting.
Matthew does not refer to Jesus ministry as teaching. Telling parables reveals the mysteries of the kingdom, but Matthew does not refer to this activity as teaching. The only time Jesus “teaches” in Matthew is in chapters 5-7, known as the Sermon on the Mount. In these verses, keeping the law is paramount. At times the law is loosed (it’s okay to pick grain on the Sabbath to alleviate hunger). Other times it’s bound even tighter (even having lustful thoughts is adultery). Jesus’ disciples bind and loose the law according to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ interpretation of the law is to be supreme.
Teaching is for the church. Don’t cast pearls before swine. The ethical standards of the Sermon on the mount are likely to be too high for most of the world. In fact 5:1-2 suggests the Sermon is for Jesus’ disciples and not the crowd. Ironically, the world has often found the ethical teachings of the Sermon on the Mount compelling in a magnetic way. The astonished crowds “listen in,” and are mesmerized.
In 5:2 Jesus emerges as the master teacher. He restricts teaching authority at first, but later seems to open it up. Authority is a big deal in Matthew’s gospel. There is danger in teaching. A hypocrite is one who teaches one thing but does another. So it’s best not to judge. Focus on your own game. Powell contends the establishment of a hierarchical teaching office is forbidden in Matthew. The community is to be egalitarian. Jesus will be the only Teacher. Perhaps Matthew intends his gospel to be the teaching authority. Powell suggests that Matthew offers no distinction between teaching and doing. Jesus teaches. The little-faith, cowardly disciples are just to DO.
A reminder: Matthew’s witness is not The Biblical Witness. He is one voice among many. Intentionally so. We are taking a microscope to the mind of Matthew, who is redactor of Jesus, Mark, Q and who knows what else.
Anyone who has read Powell’s book “Giving to God,” knows he’s brilliant on stewardship. And anyone who’s read Matthew knows that the three parables most often used to teach stewardship of any kind (earth, time, money, etc.) come from this gospel: Matthew 21:33-43, 24:45-51, 25:14-30. Powell has a grand time rummaging around concepts of stewardship (oikonomos) as managing a household.
Powell explores motive, principle and human relationships of stewardship. Matthew’s concept of stewardship is grounded in some indelible truths: everything we have belongs to God, on whom we depend, and to whom we owe a debt we can never pay. All stewardship begins here.
As an aside, Powell points out that for Matthew, even divorce is a stewardship issue. No one has the authority (that word again) to separate what God has joined. We are stewards of our relationships, which are given to us by God.
In Matthew, justice (krisis) is one of the weightier matters of the law. Those who hunger for justice we find satisfaction. Matthew challenges the concept that God’s will is done in the church rarer than in the world. Matthew understands justice won’t be complete in the world, but Jesus’ followers are to live justly anyway. The Gentiles lord it over over one another, but “it shall not be so among you.”
Powell points out that the most popular justice text is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 but the popular interpretation is not supported by modern scholarship. Matthew is more focused on justice within the community than without, and has been criticized because of this. Powell doesn’t condemn or defend Matthew’s concept of justice, but works to describe it as accurately as possible. Preachers should read this carefully edits pontificating on Matthew based on popular opinion.
This book is 15 years old. There has been a lot of ground-breaking New Testament scholarship in the last 15 years, and yet this book still has a fresh view. In fact, it feels very much like a piece of that research, drawing on modern literary theory and composition criticism. I look forward to this year, looking at the gospel and at Jesus through the eyes of Matthew’s community and his theology. I look forward to rediscovering why the church put this gospel as the first book of their New Testament.
Pastor Mindy Roll at her ordination, pictured with Pastor Herb Palmer (left) and Dr. Leslie, Yale Professor, right. For more photos, visit https://bishopmike.com/2010/11/22/mindy-rolls-ordination/
Check out these books
Upcoming Lectionary Readings
Brenham Banner Press: Burton Churches Helping the Needy
Galilean LaPlace: Little Church; Big HeartGreg Mortenson (3 Cups of Tea) in Houston December 2
January 24-26 – TriSynodical Theological Conference. Marcus Borg. Galveston. Register NOW. Books to read:
1. The Heart of Christianity.
2. Toward a Hopeful Future.
March 9 – Ash Wednesday
April 24 – Easter
May 20-22 – Synod Assembly in Galveston, Texas.
“It’s about them and it’s about God and it’s about, your job is just to make it safe for people, to experiment, to love, to forgive, to pray, to give. I think that’s something you have to go through a lot of battering to achieve. You know, no pain, no gain, I think is a Jewish sentiment just as it is a Christian one. And I think you go through those years of challenge and trial and then you realize that, you know, the highest form of leadership is empowering others to lead.”
-Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the UK Commonwealth