from Good News for a Fractured Society
Given the ideologically divided, tension-filled world in which we live, imagine hearing someone tell you how God can work through these divisions in a way that offers hope and healing for the world. I believe that this is exactly what Matthew seeks to do in his gospel. This book describes Matthew’s inspired vision for our world. In essence, it fleshes out what Paul meant when he said, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us (2 Corinthians 5:19).
The Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of how God chose to accomplish a divine work of reconciliation through a chosen people who demonstrated the same strengths and weaknesses as most people in the world today. Matthew interpreted the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the midrash, or commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures, that revealed how God worked with both the shadow side and the bright side of human nature to accomplish the divine purpose.
The contemporary church, in a similar manner to Matthew’s congregation, must determine the church’s response to a world divided between the powerful and the powerless (Chapter 1), the Christian faith and other faiths (Chapter 2), male and female (Chapter 3), and the wealthy and the poor (Chapter 4). Following an interpretation of how Matthew found hope in the face of such divisions, the fifth chapter recognizes that most contemporary churches feel helpless in the face of such overwhelming realities. The author then describes Matthew’s understanding of how God works through resistance and even betrayal to transform the world. The final chapter explores God’s intention to bring about a common witness of Jews and Christians in the reconciliation of the entire world. Matthew’s gospel provides a vision of hope that enables today’s Christians to respond with strength to the challenges of the world and have confidence that their efforts are not in vain.
In the midst of a tumultuous world, Matthew proclaimed a gospel based on the assumption that God had not lost control of history but was intimately involved in its development. For Christians, the central revelation of God’s involvement is in the person of Jesus whom we acclaim as the Christ of God. This Jesus, whom we know through the scriptural witness of his life, was not only an historical figure in time but also is a continuing presence that seeks the reconciliation of God’s creation to God’s purpose.
God, through Christ, established the church as Christ’s body through which Christ’s continuing presence can be experienced. Through the church, with all its foibles and weaknesses, God continues to demonstrate the promise of reconciliation for God’s creation. In the church, God works with both the shadow side and the bright side of the creation to reconcile it to God’s purpose. In doing so, God does not override our freedom but includes it in the working out of the divine purpose.
This leads to the conviction that the church is more than a religious organization. The church is the Body of Christ and the instrument by which God addresses the faithful. The Scripture, in this case the Gospel of Matthew, is a means by which God can call God’s people to faithfulness in the church.
This examination of Matthew emphasizes the corporate nature of the church. The issue for Matthew was how the life and ministry of Christ revealed God’s intention for Christ’s body, the church. In contrast to the current consumer mentality of asking what the church must do to attract new members, Matthew raised the questions of what we must do to be obedient to God and how we can do that in a manner that is loving towards our neighbor.