Most of us find great security in the faith we profess. The religious customs and rituals through which we express that faith are branded into our very nature. It's hard to imagine living without them.
Yet before we start to believe that our experience is the norm, we must never forget that the members of the community who first heard the Passion narrative eventually had to sacrifice almost all their religious security in order to have faith in Jesus.
Matthew's Gospel is the only one composed for a Jewish/Christian church (Mt 26: 14-27:66). The other three were written for Gentile/Christian communities. Matthew alone addresses people whose Jesus-experience parallels that of His first followers: all Jews. They regard Him not as a founder of a new religion, but as a reformer of the religion they already profess. That means their faith revolves around Jesus' death and resurrection alone. They have nothing else to fall back on. In order to achieve the life He promised, they must imitate the life He lived.
Jesus and Isaiah
Of course, they're able to surface the experiences of others who had preceded them in the faith, people like the sixth-century, BCE, prophet Deutero-Isaiah. They not only regard him as a type of Jesus because of the suffering and death he endured, but they also zero in on that part of the prophet's personality which meshed completely with what they know about Jesus: a total openness to whatever God asked of him (Is 50: 4-7).
In the best biblical definition of a disciple we possess, the prophet declares, "Morning after morning, Yahweh opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back."
Paul believes this openness inspired Jesus to empty Himself and take the form of a slave (Phil 2: 6-11). "He humbled Himself," the Apostle writes to the church in Philippi, "obediently accepting even death, death on a cross."
Though Genesis teaches that humans are created in God's image and likeness, Jesus never thought such equality with God something "to be grasped at." According to Paul, Jesus uncovered the divinity in Himself only after He became completely one with the human beings who were suffering and dying around Him. His openness to God was demonstrated by His openness to others.
Pain of Passion
That's why Matthew stresses a "different passion" in his narrative than most of us imagine is there. Taught from childhood to concentrate on Jesus' physical suffering, we failed to notice that there's very little mention of such pain in our Passion narratives. (None of the synoptic Gospels even tell us that He was nailed to the cross.) They stress Jesus' psychological suffering: the pain which comes when people give themselves to others.
One of His closest friends will betray Him to His enemies. Another will deny that he even knows Him. His hand-picked companions will fall asleep during the very time He needs them to be most present to Him. And when He's actually arrested, those who a few hours earlier swore they would never disown Him, run away from the scene.
Jesus' openness to others isn't repaid by their openness to Him. His total dedication to His followers eventually leaders Him to die with just a handful of them -- all women -- "looking on at a distance." Yet, as Matthew continually reminds his readers, it's for the sake of those others that Jesus dies. And, because of that generous death, He receives eternal life.
Matthew's Jewish-Christian church was already beginning to experience the pain of exclusion from their non-Christian Jewish brothers and sisters because of their practice of including Gentiles in their community. They had been excluded from temple worship and were being thrown out of their synagogues, all because of their openness to others.
They sacrificed the security of their religious rituals to imitate Jesus' dying and rising, the only security they thought anyone would ever need.