Highlights from Hauerwas on Matthew

Yesterday I posted a review Stanley Hauerwas commentary on Matthew in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series (Brazos, 2006) purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. Here are some highlights from the book …

For Matthew, Jesus has changed the world, requiring that our lives be changed if we are to live as people of the new creation. Accordingly, the gospel is not information that invites us to decide what we will take or leave. Our task is not to understand the story that Matthew tells in light of our understanding of the world. Rather, Matthew would have our understanding of the world be fully transformed as the result of our reading of his gospel. Matthew writes so that we might become followers, be disciples of Jesus. To be a Christian does not mean that we are to change the world, but rather that we must live as witnesses to the world that God has changed. We should not be surprised, therefore, if the way we live makes the change visible. (25)

The Sermon [on the Mount] is not a list of requirements, but rather a description of the life of a people gathered by and around Jesus. To be saved is to be so gathered. That is why the Beatitudes are the interpretive key to the whole sermon – precisely because they are not recommendations. No one is asked to go out and try to be poor in spirit or to mourn or to be meek. Rather, Jesus is indicating that given the reality of the kingdom we should not be surprised to find among those who follow him those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek. Moreover, Jesus does not suggest that everyone who follows him will possess all the Beatitudes, but we can be sure that some will be poor, some will mourn, and some will be meek.’ (61)

When he called his society together Jesus gave its members a new way of life to live. He gave them a new way to deal with offenders – by forgiving them. He gave them a new way to deal with violence – by suffering. He gave them a new way to deal with money – by sharing it. He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership – by drawing upon the gift of every member, even the most humble. He gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society – by building a new order, not smashing the old. (67)

Jesus’ use of wisdom to help us understand the character of the kingdom made present in his ministry is sometimes mistakenly used as a general policy recommendation. Jesus is not suggesting that we should not plant crops or weave cloth, but rather if we plant crops of weave cloth to “store up treasures on earth” we can be sure that our lives will be insecure. We can perhaps know that the desire to be secure is a self-defeating project without being a disciple of Jesus. But that wisdom is transformed through the recognition of him who has come to call a people into existence capable of praying for their daily bread. They are able to do so because their lives have been transformed through the call to be a disciple, making it possible for them to live in recognition that God has given them all they need … Abundance, not scarcity, is the mark of God’s kingdom. But that abundance must be made manifest through the lives of a people who have discovered that they can trust God and one another. Such trust is not an irrational gesture against the chaos of life, but rather a witness to the very character of God’s care of creation. So it is no wonder that Jesus directs our attention to birds and lilies to help us see how it is possible to live in joyful recognition that God has given us more than we need. (82-83)

The parable of the sower is not often considered by those concerned with the loss of the church’s status and membership in Europe and America, but it is hard to imagine any text more relevant to the situation of churches in the West. Why we are dying seems very simple. It is hard to be a disciple and be rich. Surely, we may think, it cannot be that simple, but Jesus certainly seems to think that it is that simple. The lure of wealth and the cares of the world produced by wealth quite simply darken and choke our imaginations. As a result, the church falls prey to the deepest enemy of the gospel – sentimentality. The gospel becomes a formula for “giving our lives meaning” without judgment … This is a particular problem in America, where Christians cannot imagine how being a Christian might put them in tension with the American we of life … It may seem odd that wealth makes it impossible to grow the word. Wealth, we assume, should create the power necessary to do much good. But wealth stills the imagination because we are not forced, as the disciples of Jesus were forced, to be an alternative to the world that only necessity can create. Possessed by possessions, we desire to act in the world, often on behalf of the poor, without having to lose our possessions. (129-130)

In truth, it is not easy to know how to read “the signs of the times,” but such a reading is required of those who would follow Jesus. Too often, however, Christians believe that we know how to read the signs of the times by reading the New York Times. But to so read the signs of the times is to be captured by the assumption that the way things are is the way things have to be. Pharisees and Sadducees read the daily newspapers and adjust. Followers of Jesus must read the same papers to show why Jesus offers an alternative reading of the times than that offered by the New York Times. Faced with such a daunting task, followers of Jesus can begin to sympathize with the Pharisees and Sadducees … Rightly reading the signs of the times requires a church capable of standing against the legitimising stories of the day. (147)

If we do not fear God our lives will be possessed by fears produced by our possessions. Jesus will command the disciples not to be afraid, but not to be afraid requires that we see, as they saw, no one but Jesus. To see Jesus, to follow Jesus, means that they too will be clothes in the bright white of martyrdom. (155)

It is not for us to try to create risk in Jesus’s name in the hope that we may recover some sense of what it might be to be a disciple of Jesus. To do that would only further our temptation to “play” at being Christian. To try to create risk would be an attempt to be heroic rather than to be disciple. (221)

Jesus’s command that the sword be put away is not a conclusive text, committing his followers to some version of pacifism. Arguments for Christian non-violence, just as arguments for the Christian justification of violence, depend on how the story is told and the kind of community that exists to tell the story. Jesus’s command that the sword be put away is but one expression that testifies to his willingness to be given over to sinners and crucified so that we might be made part of the new age inaugurated by his birth, death, and resurrection. Therefore, Christian non-violence cannot be a position separable from what it means to be a disciple. Rather, Christian non-violence is, in the words of John Howard Yoder, the pacifism of the messianic community. Such pacifism would “lose its substance if Jesus were not Christ and would lose its foundation if Jesus Christ were not Lord”. (224)

Jesus must be killed because Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus must be killed because Jesus has called into existence a new people who constitute a challenge to the world order based on lies and deceit. Jesus must be killed because he is a threat to all who rule in the name of safety and comfort. Jesus must be killed because we do not desire to have our deepest desires exposed. Jesus must be killed because we do not believe in a God who creates us and who would come among us after our likeness. So we have learned from Matthew. (235)

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