Matthew: A Good Story

In our intoduction to Matthew, we learned that the book is structured like a story, events, charaters and setting. Here’s an introduction to the characters in Matthew. We are also introduced more in depth to Matthew’s Jesus, who was very certain of who he was. We found out that we’re a bit uncomfortable with someone who is this sure!

Listen in on some of our discussion.

Bev: So the literary device of Matthew - and this is really really summary stuff - we are let in on the story through direct speaking and being told about the characters. So we get to know the characters based on their traits and ultimately the story is woven through this telling of traits, i.e. Jesus’ traits are described as obedient toward God and compassionate towards crowds. Jack Kingsbury talks about that there’s round characters which is Jesus and the disciples. And what he means by that is that these characters have a variety of traits and sometimes they’re conflictual. A perfect example of this is the disciples. You get to know them almost as 3 dimensional characters. Sometimes they’ll be pro-Jesus and sometimes…

Marilyn: So they’re complex.

Bev: Exactly. And then you get the flat characters which are the Jewish leaders and the crowd. They have few traits and they’re pretty much predictable. So the Jewish leaders are usually “evil bastards”. They’re a foil.

Marilyn: What does it mean to be a foil?

Bev: They serve a purpose. So Matthew’s list of players is Jesus, the disciples, the Jewish leaders, the crowds and the minor characters and we’ll go through this really briefly. So Jesus is like the leading man and he’s God’s supreme agent who is in complete accord with God’s systems and values. There’s no sense of “Who am I?” There’s no self-doubt.

Paul: There’s no “Last Temptation” [movie], that’s for sure.

Marilyn: That means peaceful. “Accord” means at peace, like Concordia. There’s no conflict!

Bev: Yeah, that’s probably true. He’s at peace with him and God. So his traits would be… saving, authoritative, utterly certain, loves God wholly in other words love God with all your heart, soul and mind. He has an amazing sense of integrity, enabling (what he would mean by that is that he wants to bring people into a deeper faith), he is faithful, compassionate, confrontational, and self-giving.

Paul: I like that mix! That’s a good mix.

Bev: It is a good mix!

Lorna: In some ways, is this one way of saying these are the traits of Matthew? Like, these are the traits of the author?

Paul: These are the traits of the ideal disciple.

Bev: But he (Matthew) is saying, “I am in with this guy.”

Lorna: Yes, because he is utterly certain.

Marilyn: But are there different kinds of certainty. There’s the rigid application, or is it the deep anchoredness.

Bev: I’m going out on a limb, but I think Matthew would present Jesus as non-rigid actually. Certain but not rigid. There are moments of intense grace. Like he shows compassion. And I think for Matthew, the way Kingsbury describes him is that he wants to align himself with the point of view of God.

Paul: What’s coming up here with us asking how dogmatic or certain these people are is that we in the modern times - our subjectivity runs toward looking at the subjective motivation for things. Whereas in ancient biography, subjectivity is the least important of things. So Jesus’ self-consciousness is like zero in Matthew because there’s no need for it, that’s not part of the genre at all. So when you hear him being certain, it’s just saying it’s true. It’s just a fact. It’s not a thing like being certain, like, “I’m certain of this.” That’s a personal thing. Being certain means being convinced beyond any doubt about who he is.

Bev: And identity is huge in Matthew. I think that’s why the genealogy is there.

Linda: So that’s the Torah thing too. That’s why he is… like the allusion to Moses. This is the new revelation, which is certain, it’s from God.

Paul: Well, no Jew is going to question the Torah and no Christian in this new setting is going to question the new Torah.

Linda: And that’s an odd thing for us as moderns.

Marilyn: So we have conflict with that.

Paul: We have tons of doubts. We have more doubts than answers.

Linda: It’s interesting that this guy, Birge, he talks about the name God as salvation. Emmanual. Joshua.

Cal: It’s interesting this book I’m reading by Karen Armstrong. For moderns, surety is the worst thing. And for her in her personal experience, it was the nuns’ surety that put her in a box; Islamic fundamentalists have all this surety, Christian fundamentalists, it’s the Jewish fundamentalists, the Atheistic fundamentalists, they all have surety.

Paul: So any surety stinks like hell to us! (banter) We sure are sure that everything is relative. So if we’re absolutely positive of that, then that’s a bit of a contradiction! So we have our own sureties!

Lorna: So if this Jesus has that kind of certainty like you’re describing, would you say that the author also has that kind of certainty like you’re describing?

Paul: Sure. Well, he utterly believes in the revelation of God and he’s trying to be a disciple.

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