In the Gospel of Matthew, the life to which Jesus calls his disciples is very demanding. Jesus builds on and reinterprets the Hebrew scriptural traditions of Torah, the promise of a king in the line of David, and prophetic standards of how we treat one another, especially the most vulnerable in our society. Yet he teaches that the path of discipleship is a relief:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
What is this way, so challenging and yet peace-giving?
Follow the path of discipleship in this four-part study of the Gospel of Matthew, first offered at Landrum Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church-Woodruff. The core of each week’s more extended study is presented in a brief recorded synopsis. Three sermons on Matthew follow at the conclusion.
Part 1. The Law & the Prophets
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
God’s promise to be with the people, the core and ever-evolving message of God’s steadfast love throughout the Hebrew scriptures, both continues into and profoundly transforms in the Gospel of Matthew. The story of Jesus calming the storm, found in Matthew 8: 23-27, indicates how the New Testament calls back to and interprets in a new way the Old Testament.
Part 2. The Messiah & the Marginalized
“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:40)
Matthew portrays Jesus as both the bearer of messianic and divine power, and as not only in service to those who are outcast and oppressed, but in affiliation and identification with those deemed powerless and undesirable in society. This lesson follows this theme through the Gospel, focusing on:
— Matthew 2 (The Slaughter of the Innocents)
–Matthew 5:1-11 (The Beatitudes)
–Matthew 15:21-28 (The Canaanite Woman)
–Matthew 25:31-46 (The Judgment of the Nations)
Part 3. The Path of Discipleship
“Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)
Jesus calls the disciples out, into a courage irresponsible of social norms, into what cannot be, to connect with God, and more: for God to connect through these disciples with the whole world in a new way. An interpretation of three successive stories:
–Matthew 4:18-25 (The Call of the Disciples)
–Matthew 14:13-36 (Peter and Jesus Walk on Water)
–Matthew 28:1-10, 16-20 (The Two Mary’s Go To the Tomb)
Part 4. The Kingdom of Heaven
“Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15)
Throughout Matthew, Jesus’s teaching in words and actions centers on the Kingdom of Heaven. His parables offer multiple perspectives on what this kingdom is, each new story expanding on what we thought we knew from the ones before it. In a sequence of three brief parables in Matthew 13:44-50, Jesus provokes us with the immeasurable and life-upsetting value of the Kingdom of Heaven, a realm beyond our imagination but right here now, interrupting our lives and dragging us into itself.
Three Sermons on Matthew
1. The Perfection of the Father (Matthew 5:43-48)
2. The Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:13-15)
3. “Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:1-16)
“What is that deep energy that flows through us all, that deep power in each of us, that deep hum within everything? And how is it, in all of our differences of self and culture and giftedness, when excellence emerges from one of us, when one of us really shows up as our full self in the world, even if only for a moment, we know it?
“We know it. We know.”
This winter, it was my honor to offer a series of paintings to the on-line art collective Spark and Echo. Spark and Echo commissions or creates multi-disciplinary art in response to every passage in the Bible, seeking a variety of perspectives in a large-scale, multi-dimensional, global work of interpretation.
The paintings I offered focus on the Holy Spirit understood through I Corinthians 12:1-11, Paul’s teaching on the spiritual gifts which fuel deep community.
The images, accompanied by brief reflections, may be found here:
I am grateful to curator Marlanda Dekine and to Spark and Echo for engaging me in this work.
From Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
“The work of the incarnation is to refute by his presence the pretensions of the tyrant ogre. The latter has occluded the source of grace with the shadow of his limited personality; the incarnation, utterly free of such ego-consciousness, is a direct manifestation of the law. On a grandiose scale he enacts the hero-life—performs the hero-deeds, slays the monster—but it is all with the freedom of a work done only to make evident to the eye what might have been accomplished equally well with a mere thought.” (322)
Hear the words: “freedom of a work.”