Friday, March 29, 2013
Nine Months with Matthew
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” ...Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
It was quiet a journey - like riding in a jalopy school bus on a bumpy dirt road through beautiful backcountry. That is to say, you couldn’t get comfortable in your seat, but what a view! On Palm Sunday, the class I teach at my church concluded a study of the Gospel of Matthew that began in the summer of 2012, a nine-month expedition that was disturbing and wonderful.
For the sake of class time we had to pick and choose what to focus on. There are subtleties in the text reserved for the discrete and unhurried observer, with texture, tones, symmetry and structure revealed only to those with time and an eye for beauty. Some things are spoken softly, whispered…you have to lean in and cup your ear. Hearing is hard work. Like Jesus’ parables, not everything is made obvious. Treasure is hidden - found only by those who seek. We are forced to decide if we will remain casual admirers or fall in love and pursue. Will we be stargazers or worshipers, fans or disciples?
Matthew is a challenge, far too radical and subversive. It speaks of the kingdom of heaven, which stands over the kingdoms of the world. Jesus calls us to live as citizens of this kingdom and shows us what that looks like. He’s the real deal, so hard to ignore, and no less hard to follow. Jesus calls it “narrow” and “difficult” to follow – that we must “sell all” to follow. He’s a lousy salesman but walks the talk.
I hear him calling, though I am more like Matthew’s first century Jewish leaders than I want to admit. I am good with the status quo that makes little demand on my soul. I am an insider and in the majority - comfortable. I am a rule keeper and a rule manager. That is to say, I preserve the status quo and keep things from changing, while this Gospel calls me to the discomfort of change, to minister change, to call for change, to prophesy change… and to change.
What if I do? What if I don’t? I may be hated if I follow and obey. Worst of all, I may be opposed by some within the church – some who, like me, also wish not to change. Jesus will not promise to remove opposition, but says, “Don’t be offended because of me.” That is what he said to John the Baptist just before they cut his head off.
That’s why you sell all to follow this one. Others will tell you, “Oh, I see you are excited about serving the Lord. That’s great. Just don’t be overly spiritual. Don’t loose your head.” In truth they are saying, “You really don’t have to sell all to follow.” I have heard that temptress before. For as long as I have heard the call to “sell all and follow,” I have heard the voice that seduces me to live for lesser things. That voice, that voice from the garden, that voice in the wilderness, that serpent, the devil… Like Jesus’ wilderness temptation, I am tempted to take short cuts to my desire, to choose making my own bread over the Word, to accept the praise of others over worship of God, to choose easy, immediate and sensational “success” over following with a cross.
Nine months in Matthew will change you. To sit before the text and come under it, to move through the text from beginning to end, to do an expository study rather than a topical approach…this will give us a view we rarely get. We typically don’t get this from our pulpits or Sunday school or small groups or video studies. And as a result, we go our entire Christian lives, not only missing what Matthew really says, but also what Mark, Luke, John and the rest of the Bible really says. We live our entire lives on sound bite Bible studies and headline theology, hearing topical sermons that so cleverly avoid the uneasy places in the biblical text or the things not easily understood. These sermons skip all around here and there, preventing the real flow and personality of the text. We get the photo shoot version, the brochure version. We get highlights at best and never get behind the sensational. We get propaganda.
As a result, this Bible we say we love, this book we hold to our chest and place under our pillow, this that we claim is God’s word to us, we never really hear. We know the Word like we know a Hollywood celebrity. We see it with makeup on, with lighting effect and stunt doubles - the edited version. We see acting and what is pretended for the stage and we go along with the pretense. It is an Entertainment Tonight (E.T.), version of Scripture.
Rather than hearing/living Scripture, are we are satisfied with occasional tweets or a FaceBook relationship with Scripture? We “Like” and “Share” what delights us and leave the rest (or, we “unfriend” entire passages or whole books of the Bible). We edit our account and privacy settings so as to give scripture limits in our lives.
Nine months in Matthew ended with Jesus final words in first gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples… teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” A topical approach to Scripture can be helpful at times, but topical alone will not “observe all things”.
This is Good Friday - a good day to be reminded; to follow this One, we must sell all and take up our cross. Get on the bus. It’s a bumpy ride, but comes with lots of windows. Enjoy the view as you “observe all things”.