A week ago, a blog tour began winding its way through Matt Woodley’s Matthew commentary in the Resonate Series (IVP).
This series strives to bring together “the biblical sense” with the “cultural significance” (p. 10). I take this to mean that its writers strive to bridge the horizons between an ancient meaning of the text and a contemporary significance. Like many new commentary series, it aims at use among practitioners, rather than providing accounts of the text from the perspective of would-be detached historians.
From my reading of ch. 11, and spot-checking elsewhere, the commentary makes good on its purpose to provide a Jesus who speaks to contemporary audiences.
The first section of the commentary on ch. 11 contrasts the prosperity gospel of health, wealth, and happiness with the story of John the Baptist. His spiritual career was skyrocketing until he hit rock bottom with imprisonment, loss of conviction about Jesus, and finally decapitation.
If John is any indication, life in the kingdom is not about seeing fortune and glory here and now. It is as much or more about crucifixion. But resurrection awaits for those who are faithful to the end.
In the second section, Woodley comments on Jesus as the one who welcomes the outcast, who blesses God for hiding the gospel from the wise and learned but revealing it to babes. Jesus’ words come with strong warning to his hearers. In what was, to me, the most compelling moment of insight in this section, Woodley writes:
He doesn’t warn those who need conversion; he warns those who think they already have it. (130)
The cross illustrates that God’s economy of salvation does not match the economy of the world.
As someone who engages books on both sides of the academic/popular divide, I found this commentary to be firmly situated on the latter. Had I not read the series preface, I would not have guessed that giving anything like a historical meaning, or explanation of Matthew’s Gospel as such, was a directive for the series.
It’s not that things aren’t spoken of as “what Jesus is saying to his contemporaries,” so much as the sorts of things Jesus says sound so much like contemporary evangelical theology. It leaves me with some concern that the overall commentary won’t leave folks with much of an understanding of why the story works, of why it makes sense that Jewish people were opposed to Jesus, of why, ultimately, they opposed Jesus to the point of death.
Having said this, however, the overall theological texture is commendable. Woodley is wrestling with the cross-shaped story of Jesus, and inviting readers to consider how it unmasks our mistaken presumptions about what it means to be the blessed people of God.
Can we say, in times of struggle, darkness, and hardship, “This isn’t what I signed up for”? Not so much: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God… Blessed are you when people persecute you…”
The story of Jesus, the story of the cross, is the story of the people of God: of John the baptist, of Jesus’ hometown, and of us.
I hereby inform you, the otherwise unsuspecting reader, that I was provided a copy of this book free of charge. By so informing you, I have fulfilled the requirements placed upon me by the Federal Government as one who grubs free stuff and reviews it on my blog. You must now determine if such privilege has poisoned my ability to objectively (or otherwise helpfully) report to you the product under review. ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω