The New Testament - Matthew
The arrival of Jesus signaled the beginning of a new era. God entered history in a personal way, and made it unmistakably clear that he is on our side, doing everything possible to save us. It was all presented and worked out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It was, and is, hard to believe – seemingly too good to be true.
But one by one, men and women did believe it, believed Jesus was God alive among them and for them. Soon they would realize that He also lived in them. To their great surprise they found themselves living in a world where God called all the shots – had the first word on everything; had the last word on everything. That meant that everything had to be re-centered, re-imagined and re-thought.
They went at it with real gusto. They told stories of Jesus and arranged His teachings in memorable form. They wrote letters, sang songs and prayed. One wrote an extraordinary poem based on Holy visions. There was no apparent organization to any of this; it was all more or less spontaneous and, to the eye of the casual observer, haphazard. Over the course of about fifty years, these writings added up to what would later be compiled by the followers of Jesus and designated, “The New Testament.”
Three kinds of writings – eyewitness stories, personal letters, and a visual poem – make up the book. Five stories, twenty-one letters, and one poem.
The first book is Matthew and is the story of Jesus that doesn’t begin with Jesus. God had been at work for a long time. Salvation, which is the main business of Jesus is an old business. Jesus is the coming together in final form of themes and energies and movements that had been set in motion before the foundation of the world.
Matthew opens the New Testament by setting the local story of Jesus in its world historical context. He makes sure that as we read his account of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we seethe connections with every thing that has gone before. “Fulfilled” is one of Matthew’s characteristic verbs; such and such happened “that it might be fulfilled.”
Better yet, Matthew tells the story in such a way that not only is everything previous to us completed in Jesus; we ourselves are completed in Jesus. Every day we wake up in the middle of something that is already going on, that has been going on for a long time: genealogy and geology, history and culture, the cosmos – God. We are neither accidental not incidental to the story. In Matthew we get orientation, briefing, background and reassurance.
Matthew provides the comprehensive context by which we see all God’s creation and salvation completed in Jesus, and all parts of our lives – work, family, friends, memories, dreams – also completed in Jesus. Lacking such context, we are in danger of seeing Jesus as a mere diversion from the concerns announced in the newspapers. Nothing could be further from the truth. CF?