The Gospels, part 5: The Gospel of Matthew (1)
Contemporary sentiments are such that the image of Jesus we see repeatedly portrayed in first-world contexts – be it in sermons, books, inspirational memes on social media, or in film and TV – is one that tends to soothe and “affirm” us just as we are. This “Jesus” never makes demands; he accepts us without any expectation that we should alter our thinking; he isn’t a “lawgiver” and never talks about judgment; all his teachings are reducible to a plea that we be more loving (I’m tempted to say “nice”). And he’s given to smiling a lot and generally behaving like the sort of guy who just wants to be a pal. None of this is new, and of course, it’s matched in its failure to deal with the Jesus of the Gospels by the often hateful, bigoted misrepresentation of him and his teachings among fundamentalist Christians. That said, when we turn to the Gospel of Matthew, we have no choice but to encounter there a Jesus who does make demands, who is not opposed to law and, in fact, is a lawgiver, who expects from us a change of heart, and who talks about judgment frequently. Indeed, we encounter Jesus there as the Master, the Son who knows and uniquely reveals the Father (11:27), and whose body of teachings concludes with a parable that reminds us that our lives and actions are ultimately to be taken seriously (25:31-46). Our contemporary sentiments must be set aside — just as in every age presumptuousness has had to be set aside — if we hope to catch a glimpse of the truth. This is a universal law of genuine spirituality, incidentally (just think of the paces a competent Zen master puts his pupils through, for example), but we will face it expressly with Jesus as he reveals himself in this Gospel.
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