properly understand our Christian gospels unless we appreciate how each
evangelist takes his community beyond the comfort zone it’s
already achieved in its faith.
the famous scholar Krister Stendahi once remarked, “are
into two kinds. There are always those who will ask
But the early church, although beleaguered in many ways, was a free and
happy church that moved through the surprise of grace and learned the
mood of ‘Why not?’ The mood sprang from the sense
movement was going where no one had ever gone before. Members were not
custodians of an established morality, but rather explorers moving
through new territory with a new message. Their guidance came from the
is this unique Christian mood more clearly shown than in
gospel. It must be understood against the Jewish environment of
At first Matthew
the four gospels, Matthew’s church alone mirrors
Christianity’s earliest form. As practicing Jews,
committed to follow the reform of Judaism Jesus of Nazareth lived and
taught. No one in the faith’s earliest days could have imaged
non-Jew becoming a disciple of Jesus. When Gentiles began to show
interest in the faith of Jesus, they were expected first to convert to
Judaism and to commit themselves to keeping the 613 Mosaic laws. Only
then were they welcomed into the church.
practice had changed drastically by the time Matthew writes in the
early 80s. The vast majority of Jesus’ followers were now
Gentiles, and they weren’t expected to follow the Sinai
encourages his Jewish/Christian readers to look at this unexpected
development from a new perspective. Instead of concentrating on the
unfairness of the landowner paying his early workers the same as the
late comers, Jesus points out his generosity in paying a wage he
wasn’t obligated to pay.
done no injustice to Jewish/Christians who are still expected to follow
the law. That’s part of their Exodus agreement with Yahweh.
It’s simply a matter of God’s generosity in giving
Gentile/Christians the same benefits of their Jewish brothers and
sisters without having the same obligations. Who could have anticipated
such a change in divine plans?
is also about to experience something he’d not expected: his
physical death. Like most first generation Christians, the Apostle
believed Jesus would triumphantly return in his lifetime. But as his
ministry progressed and Jesus’ “parousia”
delayed, he’s forced to consider options he’d never
am caught between the two,” he writes the Philippians.
long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your
benefit.” The best laid faith plans.
hundred years before Jesus, Deutero-Isaiah laid the groundwork for
these and many other unexpected transitions. “For my thoughts
not your thoughts,” says Yahweh. “As high as the
are above the earth, as high are my ways above your ways, and my
thought above your thoughts.”
of the problems we face is “Why?” Christians giving
interpretation of a “Why not?” collection of
much we can do about it, except to maintain our “Why
frame of mind in spite of the obstacles. That’s what our
authors expect us to do.