Printer Friendly

Lessons for teaching from the teacher: Matthew's Jesus on teaching and leading today.

Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary now dawns upon us--a year whose guiding focus is the Gospel of Matthew. (1) What can preachers and teachers expect from Matthew's narrative?

In all honesty, some readers find Matthew's gospel less attractive than Mark's and Luke's, for one simple reason: its literary prowess is not dazzling, at least at first glance. Whereas Mark dashes rapidly through events and leaves intriguing questions unanswered, Matthew tends to plod and pause to iron out narrative uncertainties. Whereas Luke has literary finesse and a focus on social injustice, Matthew has long discourses which create a choppy feel to the narrative. At least among narrative critics, Matthew's gospel is not famous among the Synoptic Gospels as a page-turner. Speaking from the perspective of narrative studies, Andrew Lincoln writes:
   It is curious ... that when one looks at
   literary approaches to the Gospels and
   Acts, one might well be forgiven for
   forming the impression that the work
   that has so far been done on Matthew is
   not on the whole as exciting, convincing
   or fruitful as that done on other narratives,
   and that perhaps Matthew's story
   has proved to be the least fertile soil for
   a narrative analysis. (2)

Lincoln wrote these words over two decades ago, but his words still apply. Whereas Matthew's gospel has been a focal point for redaction criticism, historical criticism, social-scientific studies, and Jewish-Christian dialogue, when it comes to simply reading the Gospel as literature the First Gospel may not win the day. (3)

Some of the character of Matthew's gospel may be seen in its historic symbol. As a patron of the Reu Memorial Library at Wartburg Seminary, I regularly gaze upon a large etching in the western windows that features the historic symbols of the canonical Gospels: a man (Matthew), a lion (Mark), an ox (Luke), and an eagle (John). (4) Many find the images of lion, ox, and eagle intriguing--even inspiring. Like dust jackets crafted by savvy publishers, they foster reflection on themes in their respective writings. By comparison, less attention goes to the man--the symbol for Matthews gospel. The symbol is not particularly provocative: the image of a human being is simply too familiar to us human viewers. Moreover, the symbol is more traditional than "edgy": it looks more like a traditional author's portrait than a creative new vision. Rightly or wrongly, these impressions make the symbol of Matthew an ugly duckling among the four.

Alongside Matthew's shortcomings, however, are priceless gifts. Like its historic symbol, the First Gospel is "traditional" by engaging its Jewish theological roots in ways unlike any other Gospel. Moreover, like the image of a human being, Matthew's gospel is "familiar" in that it retains Mark's basic story, features recognized teachings of Jesus, and appears first in the canonical order. (5) Finally, the image of a human being highlights one of Matthew's greatest and most characteristic features: more than any other gospel, Matthew's is a teaching gospel. (6) Whereas in the ancient world animals represented divine powers and traits, human beings embodied intelligence, revelation, and instruction.

Two features of Matthew are particularly vital. First, Matthew's narrative entails five major didactic discourses (5:1-7:27; 10:1-42; 13:1-52; 18:1-35; 24:1-25:46) which focus on matters of discipleship. Second, the overall flow of Matthews gospel features a constructive progression of educational formation: from Jesus calling disciples (4:18-22), to teaching them (5:1-7:27; 10:1-42; 13:10-17, 36-52; 18:1-35; 24:1-25:46) so that they may be "discipled" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in the kingdom (13:52), to sending them out to teach others (28:18-20). (7) While throughout the narrative Jesus alone is the teacher par excellence, at the conclusion he commissions his disciples to carry on his teaching ministry beyond the scope of the narrative. (8) Resonating with its historic image (a human being), the Gospel of Matthew features a teaching Jesus, a focus on discipleship, and the call to carry on Jesus' teaching ministry beyond the reach of the narrative (Matt 28:20). (9)

Building upon Matthew's heritage as a "Teaching Gospel," this article highlights important aspects of closure within the narrative's teaching discourses. The conclusions to the five didactic discourses of Matthew (5:1-7:27; 10:1-42; 13:1-52; 18:1-35; 24:1-25:46) underscore important lessons for teachers and flesh out the nature of teaching ministry according to Matthew's Jesus. Barbara Herrnstein Smith points out: "the manner in which [something] concludes, becomes, in effect, the last and frequently the most significant thing it says." (10) The fact that such major movements of Matthew's narrative conclude with these messages implies that they are significant. After all, scholars have long noticed ways that Jesus' teaching in Matthew's narrative addresses not simply the narrative audience, but also the implied audience of Matthew's day. (11) The multifaceted ways that Matthew addressed disciples of the past opens up possibilities for calling disciples to carry on Jesus' teaching ministry in the present.

With an eye to this lectionary focus, I will highlight four distinctive lessons regarding the practice and ministry of teaching from the conclusions to Matthew's five discourses.

1. The necessity of integrity (Matt 7:24-27)

Matthew's first major discourse is his largest, and is widely known as the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29). Although it entails defining theological ideas of the narrative (e.g., 5:17-20), this first major discourse also establishes a pattern that characterizes all five discourses:

1. An introduction that establishes a specific place and context:

a. "When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying" (5:1-2). (12)

b. "Then he summoned his twelve disciples..." (10:1).

c. "That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying" (13:1-3a).

d. "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked..." (18:1).

e. "As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, 'You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down. When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying..." (24:l-3a). (13)

2. A focus on the disciples as Jesus' primary audience (despite the presence of crowds):

a. "...his disciples came to him" (5:1).

b. "Then he summoned his twelve disciples..." (10:1).

c. "Then the disciples came and asked him..." (13:10), "he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying" (13:36). (14)

d. "the disciples came to Jesus and asked..." (18:1).

e. "the disciples came to him privately, saying..." (24:3a).

3. A concluding parable (four of the five discourses; 10:1-52 does not have this) (15):

a. The parable of the two builders (7:24-27).

b. The parable of a scribe trained in the kingdom of heaven (13:52).

c. The parable of the dishonest manager (18:21-35).

d. The parable of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46).

4. The same words of conclusion: "Now when Jesus had finished..." (16):

a. "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things..." (7:28-29).

b. "Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples..." (11:1).

c. "Now when Jesus had finished these parables..." (13:53).

d. "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things..." (19:1).

e. "Now when Jesus had finished saying all these things..." (26:1).

In this first major discourse Jesus' teaching casts a radical vision of reality (5:3-12), reinterprets the Torah (5:17-48), and offers new patterns of piety and justice (6:1-7:12). (17) Following these instructions, four warnings urge hearers to put these ideals into practice (7:13-14,15-20,21-23, and 24-27). Only the final warning (w. 24]-27), however, serves to conclude the entire Sermon on the Mount by explicitly referring to the whole:
   (24) Therefore, everyone who hears these
   words of mine and acts on them will be
   like a wise man who built his house on
   rock. (25) The rain fell, the floods came,
   and the winds blew and fell upon that
   house, but it did not fall, because it had
   been built upon rock. (26) And everyone
   who hears these words of mine and does
   not act on them will be like a foolish
   man who built his house on sand. (27) The
   rain fell, the floods came, and the winds
   blew and beat against that house, and it
   fell--and great was its fall!" (7:24-27,
   emphasis added).

While the referent for "these words of mine" (w. 24,26) is not named explicitly, the location of the warning at the end of 5:3-7:27 implies reference to the whole (see also 7:28). (18) In this way the concluding warning both fosters closure to the sermon and simultaneously underscores the particular rhetorical message of the parable.

The conclusion (7:24-27) is a parable that illustrates the virtue of acting on Jesus' teaching (vs. simply hearing). The parable contrasts the "wise man" with the "foolish man": the former symbolizes those who hear Jesus' words and put them into practice, whereas the latter symbolizes those who merely hear and do not act. In both cases "the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against (fell upon, v. 25) that house" (w. 25, 27), but with differing results: whereas the wise man's house stood the test (v. 25), the foolish man's house "fell--and great was its fall!" (v. 27). These final words underscore how great is the ruin for those who do not translate Jesus' teaching into praxis. (19)

Within the context of Matthew, this message has heightened significance for leaders and teachers. First, throughout the narrative the cardinal sin of those explicitly condemned by Jesus is to know the good and yet not act upon it (11:20-24; 15:1-9; 21:43; 23:3; cf. 18:32-33). While the average disciple does well to heed the lesson (12:50; 18:32-33), Matthews Jesus reserves more severe judgment for teachers who do not translate teaching into practice (see 23:3-36). (20) Second, immediately after 7:24-27 Matthew points out that Jesus' hearers are impressed that Jesus "taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes" (7:29). While the precise sense of this "authority" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is open to interpretation, in Matthew the great distinction between Jesus' teaching and that of the scribes boils down to authenticity: whether the teachers embody what they teach. Jesus embodies the ideals of blessing the poor in spirit, fidelity to God, and righteousness. The implication is that Jesus' disciple-teachers are called to do the same. As Jesus' parables and teachings show, it is easy to lead blindly and cause others to stumble (18:6-7, 8-14; 23:16-26). Disciples trained in Jesus' way, however, are called to a higher standard of integrity: practicing what one teaches and thereby embodying an authority that comes from without.

The conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount (7:24-28) highlights a fundamental characteristic of the teaching ministry of Matthew's Jesus: it is transformational. In contrast to the modern idea that teaching is merely relaying cognitive data, in Matthew Jesus' teaching aims to shape disciples whose lives incarnate the kingdom of heaven (10:40-42; 28:18-20). As the parable of 7:24-27 emphasizes, intellectual comprehension is merely a step in the right direction. The goal of Jesus' teaching is holistic transformation. Of course, this call can seem intimidating and overwhelming, since it aims for dynamic results and requires holistic integrity on the part of the teacher. However, alongside this "law" is the promise that education is much more than an intellectual sport, handled best only by the intellectually gifted. The transformational nature of Jesus' teaching ministry, according to Matthew, makes it equally accessible to both the wise and uneducated, both the mature and "infants" (11:25-26).

2. The call to be Jesus' representatives (Matt 10:40-42)

In Matthew's second didactic discourse (The "Missionary Discourse"), Jesus authorizes the twelve disciples to follow his pattern of traveling, proclaiming, and healing. After an introductory word (10:1) and a list of the twelve (w. 2-4), Jesus describes to his disciples their evangelical task (w. 5-15), warns them of persecution (w. 16-25), and encourages their perseverance (w. 26-39). Jesus concludes the discourse by emphasizing the profound significance of welcoming the disciples as they carry on Jesus' ministry:

(40) Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 42And whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones for being a disciple--truly I tell you, that person will by no means lose the reward (Matt 10:40-42).

The three descriptors of prophet, righteous person, and "one of these little ones" each describe the disciples, highlighting different qualities or roles within the singular call to carry on Jesus' ministry. (21) The central idea is this: not only does Jesus authorize the disciples to cast out evil and to heal (v. 1), he associates himself with them as they carry out his mission. Welcoming a disciple means welcoming Jesus, and welcoming Jesus means welcoming the God who has sent Jesus.

The second discourse focuses on those engaged in proclaiming the good news in word and deed. While the call is not specific to teachers or leaders, it pertains to them insofar as they proclaim the good news--a role that church leaders occupy on a regular basis. As a whole, the discourse calls disciples not simply to carry out tasks X, Y, and Z, but to carry on Jesus' own ministry (casting out evil, proclaiming, and healing) precisely as he has done. In doing so the disciples will "be like [their] teacher" (v. 25), experiencing the same hardships (w. 16-25) and rewards (w. 32-33, 39). As the concluding words (w. 40-42) imply, those who carry on Jesus' ministry in this way effectively become his representatives.

The call is one that entails both demand and promise. The demand is the responsibility of representing Jesus in ministry, which calls for genuine integrity. The promise is Jesus' close association, no matter the circumstances. The promise is hardly a safeguard from hardship, difficulty, or harm. As the commission at the end of Matthew's gospel (28:16-20) implies, however, the promise of Jesus' presence is not limited to the specific occasion of Matthew 10. Where Jesus' disciples carry on his ministry of casting out evil, healing, and proclaiming--as well as making disciples, baptizing, and teaching (28:18-20)--there Jesus is with them.

3. The importance of honoring both heritage and innovation (Matt 13:51-52)

The third didactic discourse of Matthew's narrative features Jesus teaching through parables, and the disciples' privileged place of understanding them. The chapter begins with an audience of "great crowds" (13:2), who hear several parables (w. 3-9, 24-35). The majority of Jesus' discourse, however, is given only to the disciples (w. 10-23, 36-53), to whom "it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (v. 11). In this way the chapter makes a stark divide between those who do not understand Jesus' cryptic teaching (the crowds) and those who do (the disciples).

Jesus' conclusion to the discourse (13:51-52) entails both a closing reference to the whole (v. 51) and a new idea (v. 52). While the closing reference summarizes what has preceded ("Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes," v. 51), Jesus' last word announces a new principle for disciples of the kingdom:
   Therefore every scribe trained
   [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the kingdom of
   heaven is like a household master who
   brings out from his treasury things both
   new and old (13:52).

The context of the discourse (13:1-52) implies that things "new" refer to the new teaching associated with Jesus, while things "old" are the traditional teachings of the Torah. The "scribe trained in the kingdom of heaven" is a disciple of Jesus who discerns the value of both. (22) Following Jesus' pattern, the disciple aims not to abolish the Messiah's theological heritage (5:17-20), but retains it in relationship to the new revelation of Jesus. (23) Much to the frustration of scholars, Matthew's gospel does not clarify precisely the envisioned relationship between Jesus' teaching and the heritage of the Jewish Torah. It only makes clear that this heritage is not to be left behind. (24) The conclusion to Matthew's third discourse underscores the virtue of disciples who appreciate the best of both worlds, who can hold the two in tension for a community that needs both.

The shift of perspective from "disciples" to "scribes" in Matt 13:52 suggests that this word pertained especially to "scribe[s] trained in the kingdom" (i.e., educated disciples) in Matthew's own day. Ulrich Luz concludes that the role of the "biblically literate" (or "theologian") was unique and important in Matthew's church. (25) More than simply a disciple, those trained biblically and theologically are called to share their resources for the building up of all. Matt 13:52 lifts up this calling by underscoring the importance of holding "old" and "new" in relationship. The call is to discern and appreciate both the values of heritage and also new venues for fidelity to God. While the context of Matthew saw this in terms of its Jewish theological heritage, the same principle extends to matters of ministry today. Faithful ministry entails both a sense of the past as well as vision for the future. Abrogating either of these threatens the vibrancy of the whole. In teaching, proclaiming, and ministering, Matthew's gospel calls leaders to be "masters" of both worlds, drawing on both old and new for the sake of serving as discerning teachers.

4. Treating others in the community as Christ (Matt 25:31-46) and according to Christ (Matt 18:23-35)

While the final two discourses (18:1-35; 24:1-25:46) are quite different from each other, they conclude with complementary ideas. The first, Matthew's fourth discourse, emphasizes community discipline in the context of childlike humility and forgiveness (18:1-35). The second, Matthew's fifth discourse, centers on eschatological expectation and faithful living in the meantime (24:1-25:46).

The fourth discourse emphasizes humility (18:1-5), warns against causing others to sin (w. 6-14), and counsels on managing community discord (w. 15-20). The discourse concludes on the note of limitless forgiveness (w. 21-35), as introduced by a question:
   (21) Then Peter came and said to him,
   "Lord, if another member of the Christian
   community (Greek: "sibling") sins
   against me, how often should I forgive?
   As many as seven times?" "Jesus said
   to him, "I tell you: not seven times,
   but seventy-seven times" (18:21-22).

Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a forgiven slave who does not reciprocate forgiveness to another indebted to him and for this reason is punished (w. 23-35). Jesus concludes: "So will my heavenly Father do to you, if you do not forgive your sister or brother from the heart" (v. 35). Jesus' strong words emphasize the critical importance of forgiveness within the Christian community, and his parable characterizes individual members as servants first forgiven by their master. The idea is not merely an ethical one. It stems from a core theological principle: because God in Christ has forgiven the Christian disciple, s/he in turn is called to reciprocate with forgiveness toward others (see also 5:43-48; 6:14-15). In short, Christ's followers are called to imitate God's practice of forgiveness. Wherever humility (18:1-4), concern for others (w. 6-20), and forgiveness (w. 21-35) characterize the relationships within Christian community, there God's ideals are manifest. (26)

The fifth and final didactic discourse of Matthew's gospel (24:1-25:46) is eschatologically oriented. The discourse describes events surrounding the end of the age (Matt 24:1-31; cf. Mark 13:1-32), encourages vigilance and fidelity in the meantime (Matt 24:32-25:30), and concludes with a parable featuring the Son of Man as judge (25:31-46). The final parable shows "all nations" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] before the Son of Man, who calls them to account for how and whether they fed, nourished, welcomed, clothed, cared for, and visited Jesus--represented by "the least of these my sisters and brothers" (v. 40, cf. v. 45, "least of these")--when he was in need. The parable is commonly interpreted as endorsing care for the poor and socially marginalized, inside and outside the Christian community. Attractive as that may be, the context of Matthew and focus of the passage center on members of the Christian community ("the least of these sisters and brothers of mine"). (2) While concern for the poor and marginalized reflects theologically grounded Christian practice, the focus is the community of faith. (28) Where people have cared for "the least of these," they have cared for Jesus--although unknowingly. The upshot is that Jesus directly associates himself not simply with leaders of the Christian community, but also with the "least": presumably the least important, the least significant, and the least impressive--those not recognized as embodying Jesus. As such, Jesus' association is not limited to particular categories of believers, but even extends to the unrecognized within the community of faith.

The conclusions to Matthew's fourth and fifth teaching discourses highlight related ideas: the disciple is called to treat others in the Christian community as Christ himself (25:31-46) and as Christ has treated them (18:23-25). Where humility, concern for others, care for other's needs, and forgiveness apply, there Christ is among them (18:20; 25:40, 45). This call entails both demand and promise. The demand is to treat others with no less dignity, care, and grace than one would treat Christ himself. The promise is that Christ associates himself with members of the community of faith--both leaders at work in his name (18:20) and "the least" significant members (25:40,45). In this way, the promise of divine presence (1:18; 28:20) applies to the entire faith community without distinctive limits.

This call pertains especially to teachers and leaders, and in a special way. The two discourses compel leaders not only to teach the practices of forgiveness and charity, but also to foster a community where special statuses among members have no significant place. Both discourses encourage the practices of humility (18:1-4), forgiveness (18:23-35), and, above all, care for "the little ones" and "the least of these" (18:5-14; 25:31-46). The comprehensive picture constitutes a community ethos of limited structure and deliberate recognition that associates Christ with each member. (29) The conclusions to these discourses call on teachers both to instruct and embody a leadership style that is unassuming, affirming, egalitarian, and attuned to the underprivileged and overlooked.


More than its canonical counterparts, Matthew's gospel addresses the needs, concerns, and call of Christian teachers. From the narratives wealth of didactic content to Jesus' role as a teacher to his disciples, the First Gospel informs and models ways that church leaders may carry on Jesus' teaching ministry in their own contexts. Apassage from Matthew 23 brings together a number of these themes:

(8) But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all sisters and brothers. (9) And on earth you are not to be called Father, for you have one Father who is in heaven. (10) Neither are you to be called instructors, because you have one instructor, Christ. "The greatest among you will be your servant. (12) And all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted (Matt 23:8-12).

In the conclusions to the didactic discourses--and throughout Matthew's gospel--the evangelist envisions teachers who practice humility, service, aversion to social recognition, and reverence toward God and Christ. (30) In practicing these things, teaching disciples strive not to be greater than their Master Teacher, but instead to be like him (10:24-25a), to incarnate the kingdom of heaven (13:52), and to carry on the Teacher's work (28:18-20). (31)

The conclusions to Matthew's didactic discourses address in unique ways the call to carry on Jesus' teaching ministry. (32) They call on leaders and teachers to model integrity (7:24-27), to represent Christ's presence (10:40-42), to discern the value of both old and new (13:51-52), and to treat others in the faith community as Christ himself (25:31-46) and as Christ has treated them (18:23-35). While these ideas apply to disciples of all kinds, they apply in special ways to those serving as teachers, leaders, and preachers--in Matthew's day and beyond. Collectively, they characterize a way of teaching that is transformational, a way of leading that is egalitarian, a way of relating that reflects Christ, and a way of ministering that incarnates the kingdom. Like an orchestra with deliberate movements, Matthew's narrative is composed from major movements of teaching which conclude with lessons especially pertinent to teachers "trained in the kingdom" (13:52). As the lectionary year unfolds, we do well to consider our own ministries of teaching in light of Matthew's Jesus, whose manner of teaching inspired, instructed, and introduced many to a whole new way of being.

(1.) I wish to extend my thanks to both Dr. James L. Bailey and Daniel Baldwin at Wartburg Seminary--who read earlier drafts of this piece--for their time, feedback, and constructive comments.

(2.) "Matthew--A Story for Teachers?" in The Bible in Three Dimensions: Essays in Celebration of Forty Years of Biblical Studies in the University of Sheffield (ed. Stephen E. Fowl, Stanley E. Porter, and David J. A. Clines; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990), 103. Lincoln writes this over and against Graham Stanton's comment, that "Matthew is undoubtedly the supreme literary artist among the evangelists" (Stanton, "The Origin and Purpose of Matthew's Gospel: Matthean Scholarship from 1945 to 1980," ANRW 2.25.3 [1984]: 1906).

(3.) For a different evaluation of Matthew as narrative, see Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew as Story (2d ed.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), esp. 161-163.

(4.) The crosshatching design is by Jeffrey J. Stoks, in collaboration with Philip J. Thompson (completed and hung in 1982). Association of the four gospels with these four animals stems from the visions of Ezek 1:5-14 (esp. v. 10; but cf. 10:14 [omitted by the LXX]) and Rev 4:6-7. The earliest documented identification of the Gospels with these images is ca. 185 CE (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.11.8--note: Irenaeus associated Mark with the eagle and John with the lion), which has continued in various forms to this day. For discussion of the four historic symbols, see Theodor Zahn, "Die Theirsymbole der Evangelisten," pp. 257-275 in Forschungen zur Geschichte des neutestamentliche Kanons und altkirche Literature (Erlangen: Andreas Deichert, 1883), 2:257-75. For a more recent--and more readable--discussion, see Richard Burridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 23-32. On Irenaeuss words, see T. C. Skeat, "Irenaeus and the Four-Gospel Canon," pp. 73-78 in The Collected Biblical Writings of T. C. Skeat (ed. J.K. Elliott; NovTSup 113; Leiden: Brill, 2004); Hans von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 176-201.

(5.) In earlier centuries, this played a role in fostering the belief that Matthew's gospel was written first (see Papias's comments, ca. 130 CE, in Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.24.5-7; Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels 1.2.3-4.)

(6.) Emphasized especially by scholars who have understood Matthew as a kind of teaching manual for the early church: Ernst von Dobschutz ("Matthew as Rabbi and Catechist," in The Interpretation of Matthew [ed. Graham Stanton; trans. Robert Morgan; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983], 19-29), Rudolph Bultmann (History of the Synoptic Tradition [trans. John Marsh; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963], 356-358), Krister Stendahl (The School of St. Matthew and its Use of the Old Testament [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968]), and Paul S. Minear (Matthew: The Teacher's Gospel [Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2003] 12-23). Others with a similar approach are David Hill (The Gospel of Matthew [London: Oliphants, 1972], 43-44), John P. Meier (The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church and Morality in the First Gospel [New York; Paulist Press, 1979], esp. 26-39), D. Patte (The Gospel according to Matthew [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987], 205), and Michael J. Wilkens (The Concept of Disciple in Matthew's Gospel as Reflected in the Use of the Term [NovTSup 59; Leiden: Brill, 1988] 172).

(7.) For more detailed discussion of the structure of Matthews gospel and its catechetical function, see K. Stendahl, School of St. Matthew, 20-29.

(8.) On this idea, see Jack Kingsbury, Matthew as Story, 129-45; Andrew Lincoln, "Matthew--A Story for Teachers?" 122-125.

(9.) On Jesus' role as teacher in Matthew's gospel, see Samuel Byrskog, Jesus the Only Teacher: Didactic Authority and Transmission in Ancient Israel, Ancient Judaism and the Matthean Community (ConBNT 24; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1994); "Jesus as Messianic Teacher in the Gospel according to Matthew: Tradition History and/ or Narrative Christology," in New Testament as Reception (JSNTSup 230; ed. Mogens Muller and Henrik Tronier; London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 83-100; John Yueh-Han Yieh, One Teacher: Jesus' Teaching Role in Matthew's Gospel Report (BZNW 124; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004); "Jesus as 'Teacher-Saviour' or 'Saviour-Teacher': Reading the Gospel of Matthew in Chinese Contexts," HTS65:1 (2009): 61-90.

(10.) Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Poetic Closure: A Study of How Poems End (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1968), 196.

(11.) On this, for example, see Ulrich Luz, "The Disciples in the Gospel According to Matthew," in The Interpretation of Matthew (ed. Graham Stanton; trans. Robert Morgan; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 98-128; Gunther Bornkamm, "The Authority to 'Bind' and 'Loose' in the Church in Matthew's Gospel," in The Interpretation of Matthew (ed. Graham Stanton), 85-97; Paul S. Minear, "Disciples and the Crowds in the Gospel of Matthew," A ThR (March 1974, Sup Series):28-44; J. Andrew Overman, Church and Community in Crisis: The Gospel According to Matthew (The New Testament in Context; Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press, 1996), 73-75; Donald Senior, The Gospel of Matthew (Interpreting Biblical Texts; Nashville: Abingdon, 1997), 63-70.

(12.) All scripture translations in this essay are my own, unless noted otherwise.

(13.) The first, third, and fifth discourse introductions entail more detailed settings (vs. the second and fourth), and only the first and fifth use the same motif of Jesus sitting down upon a "mountain" For the significance of "mountain" imagery for Matthew's gospel and theology, see Terence L. Donaldson, Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology (JSNTSup 8; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985). For more on Matthews Jesus-Moses typology, see Dale C. Allison, Jr., The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983), esp. 172-180, 254-256.

(14.) The third discourse (13:1-53) has a mixed audience: it begins with "great crowds" (13:1-9), then shifts to the disciples alone (w. 10-17), shifts back to the crowds (w. 24-35, see v. 34), then again returns to the private audience of the disciples for the remainder of the discourse (w. 36-52).

(15.) Noted by Davies and Allison (The Gospel according to St. Matthew [3 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988, 1991, 1997], 1:719). Davies and Allison also point out that most of these concluding parables--along with parables that precede them--conclude on a deeply eschatological tone. The warnings issued by each of the discourse conclusions warn with eschatological rewards and punishments (7:13-14, 15-20, 21-23, 24-27; 10:32-33, 34-39, 40-12; 13:44, 45-46, 47-50; 25:1-13, 14-30, 31-46) (the fourth discourse, 18:1-35 is an exception to this rule). This feature creates a flow to the discourses, then, that generally moves from present ethical injunctions toward future, eschatological concerns (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:728).

(16.) First noted by Benjamin Bacon ("Five Words"). All five discourses use the same Greek words: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Now when Jesus had finished saying..."). The first, fourth, and fifth discourses follow with the same direct object [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("these words," 7:28; 19:1; 26:1), although 26:1 includes the word Ttdvfas ("all").

(17.) Donald Senior outlines the Sermon the Mount with a similar structure as mine (Matthew [Abingdon New Testament Commentary; Nashville: Abingdon, 1998], 68-69).

(18.) Immediately after the sermon, Matthew records: "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching" (7:28, emphasis added)--clearly a reference to the entirety of 5:3-7:27. The Greek phrase for "these things" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in both 7:24 and 7:28 is identical. Donald Senior rightly comments: "The phrase 'these words of mine' refers to the entire Sermon, which for Matthew is a distillation of Jesus' teaching" (Matthew, 91). I call this form of closure "completion" (vs. resolution, for instance), where an ending resonates with earlier parts of the narrative. For more on closure in modern and ancient literature, see Troftgruben, A Conclusion Unhindered: A Study of the Ending of Acts within its Literary Environment (WUNT 2.280; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 45-60.

(19.) Davies and Allison (Matthew, 1:724) suggest that the expression "Great was its fall!" was proverbial in the ancient world (cf. Philo, Mut. Nom. 55; Migr. Abr. 80; Ebr. 156).

(20.) "... do not do as [the scribes and Pharisees] do, for they do not practice what they teach" (23:3, NRSV).

(21.) So also Donald Senior (Mat thew, 122), Davies and Allison (Matthew, 2:227-28), and Ulrich Luz (Matthew [3 vols., Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2007], 2:120-121). "Little ones" in Matthew may refer to the socially overlooked and underprivileged, such as children (cf. 18:1-4; 19:13-15), but more likely refers generally to all members of the Christian community (cf. "little ones who believe in me," 18:6; also 18:10, 14; cf. "the least of these" in 25:40, 45).

(22.) Donald Senior aptly summarizes: "The Christian scribe, therefore, was one who could mediate both dimensions for a community stretched across a turning point in history" (Matthew, 159). For further nuances and possible understandings of these ideas in Matt 13:52, see Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:447-448.

(23.) Much has been written on the meaning of Jesus' words, "I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it" (Matt 5:17). See R. G. Hammerton-Kelly, "Attitudes to the Law in Matthew's Gospel: A Discussion of Matthew 5:18," Biblical Research 17 (1972): 19-32; Ulrich Luz, "The Fulfillment of the Law in Matthew (Matt. 5:17-20)," in Studies in Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 185-218; Klyne R. Snodgrass, "Matthew and the Law," in Treasures New and Old: Recent Contributions to Matthean Studies (ed. David R. Bauer and Mark Allan Powell; SBLSymS 1; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996), 69-98; Hans Dieter Betz, "The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Interpretation," in The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester (ed. B. A. Pearson; Minneapolis: Fortress, 199), 258-275.

(24.) On this topic, see Donald Senior's discussion in What Are They Saying about Matthew? 62-73. For an intertextual conversation with Pauline theology on this topic, see Kelly R. Iverson, "An Enemy of the Gospel? Anti-Paulinisms and Intertextuality in the Gospel of Matthew," in Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul: Essays in Honor of Frank J. Matera (ed. Christopher W. Skinner and Kelly R. Iverson; Early Christianity and Its Literature 7; Atlanta: SBL, 2012), 7-32.

(25.) Luz, Matthew, 2:288. See also all of pp. 288-289.

(26.) Donald Senior writes: "Taken as a whole, this community discourse (18:1-35) presents a remarkable portrayal of the virtues that Matthew's gospel considered essential for the Christian community" (Matthew, 212).

(27.) On this, see esp. Ulrich Luz, "The Final Judgment (Matt 25:31-46): An Exercise in 'History of Influence' Exegesis," in Treasures New and Old (ed. David R. Bauer and Mark Allen Powell; trans. Dorothy Jean Weaver), 271-310. (Much of the same content appears in Luz's commentary, Matthew, 3:263-284.) Also Donald Senior, Matthew, 280-86. Senior takes what Luz calls "the exclusive interpretation" of the passage, referring to a judgment of the "Gentiles" (i.e., pagans, vs. "all nations," Gk. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) on the basis of how they have treated Christians (for Senior, esp. Christian missionaries sent out), whereas Luz advocates for the "classic interpretation," referring to a judgment of "all nations" (Christians and non-Christians) on the basis of how they have treated the poor and lowly within the Christian community. For an argument for the "universal interpretation" (most common today), see Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3.428-430.

(28.) So also Ulrich Luz (Matthew, 3:263-84) and Russell Pregeant (Matthew [Chalice Commentaries for Today; St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004], 175-176). I concur with Luz, that itinerant Christian missionaries are not implied here because nowhere in Matthew's gospel are they given special status (Luz, Matthew, 2:62-63 and 3:281-282; Pregeant, Matthew, 175-176; pace Senior, Matthew, 3:280-286). Of course, the rhetorical power of the parable is the fact that those who overlook/care for Jesus did not recognize the fact when they did so. This simple observation checks any sense of confidence we have in identifying precisely whom the parable represents.

(29.) Donald Senior writes: "The community, and in a special way its leading members, was to be characterized by a childlike humility, not seeking special status but willing to change their perspective and take on a new life" (Matthew, 212).

(30.) Ulrich Luz comments: "The christological and basic theological arguments in w. 8b, 9b, and 10b for the three warnings make clear that the evangelist is interested in more than a warning that might apply only to a particular situation.... A Christian teacher who is committed to the teaching of Jesus but who is not "humble" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as Jesus is, is an impossible figure" (Matthew, 3:106-107).

(31.) "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor is a slave above the master. It is enough for disciples to be like their teacher, and slaves to be like their master" (Matt 10:24-25a). "Jesus said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And see I am with you always until the end of the age" (Matt 28:18-20, emphasis added).

(32.) Paul S. Minear states: "The author of this Gospel was a teacher who designed his work to be of maximum help to teachers in Christian congregations" (Matthew: The Teacher's Gospel, 3, emphasis original).

Troy M. Troftgruben

Assistant Professor of New Testament, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa
COPYRIGHT 2013 Lutheran School of Theology and Mission
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Troftgruben, Troy M.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Dec 1, 2013
Previous Article:Sola Scriptura in the Year of Matthew and Ecclesia Semper Reformanda.
Next Article:The Sermon on the Mount: invitation to new life.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |