What’s in It for Us? A Study of the Gospel of Matthew: Part 6

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“I tell you the truth, whatever you did to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40

In all the gospels, this verse can either be a great comfort or damning indictment. There is no need to muse too much on what the Jesus of past history must have looked like (height, eye color, hair color, the timber of his voice). Jesus assures us that, if we truly desire to see him, we need look no further than into the faces of the people who enter our lives every day. Granted, in some he is more difficult to find than others, but truth is the truth. And Jesus, who is Truth itself, has, and will, never lie to us.

While it is important to see Jesus in others, and there minister to him and love him, we must also strive to create, with God’s help, the kind of life where people find it easy to see Jesus in us. Do we trust Jesus enough to hand our lives over to him, to do with as he wishes (after all, we are bought and paid for by him; we are his property), or do we say we trust but act as if Jesus were only an important myth?

All of us have seen the letters W.W.J.D. on bracelets and bumper stickers. Do we ask this question when dealing with difficult people or situations, “What would Jesus do” in this situation or with this person? Or do we act on our feelings and emotions alone?

As gay and lesbian people, it is easy to see ourselves as the “least ones” Jesus speaks about. And there is truth here. But have we the insight and courage to reach out with compassion and understanding to the “goats” who have abused us?

Jesus never said following him was going to be easy. But if we wish to be welcomed as lambs and not rejected as goats, then follow him we must, no matter the difficulty. And if we strive daily to find him in our sisters and brothers, then the difficulties are not difficult at all.

Matthew 26

In chapter 26 of Matthew’s gospel, the destruction of Jesus picks up speed. The clouds of death grow bloated.

In Bethany, Jesus is anointed by a nameless, loving woman, prefiguring the anointing that his desecrated body will receive before being placed in the tomb. It is after this sign of affection toward Jesus that Judas goes to the religious authorities and agrees to hand him over to them.

Why did Judas do such a thing? I don’t know. I barely understand why I do what I do! But I believe it is too easy to simply say he was greedy or filled with evil. After all, we have almost 2000 years of reflection and theologizing to look back on. If we are completely honest, there is a bit of Judas in us all. Every time we know the truth and betray it, we betray Jesus. Every evil we do and every good we avoid is a betrayal. Our brother Judas was in the midst of things and did not have all the helps we have to make his decision. I’d like to believe that when Jesus asked for mercy toward his executioners, his divine carpenter’s heart was large enough and merciful enough to embrace this wayward apostle whom he chose to walk with him.

Chapter 26 draws to a close with Jesus wrestling with God’s will for him in the garden of Gethsemane. What went on there amid the darkness and gnarled forms of the ancient olive trees remains fodder for speculation. Did Jesus know all that was about to unfold? Did he know the fate that awaited him? We cannot say for sure. But Jesus was no fool, no babe in the woods. He went through this world with eyes wide open regarding the fickleness of the human heart. And he had seen more than one crucifixion as he traveled from village to village. And he wanted to live. His human nature was repulsed at the thought of the pain and humiliation. Yet, in the end, “not as I will, but as you will.”

God’s will is mysterious, to say the least. We often do not understand it or, in all honesty, want it. We know that, if only God would check with us first, things would be so much better. Jesus knows how much of a struggle it can be to be faithful, especially when everything is crumbling around you. That is why he is so approachable in the dark times. Following his Father’s will cost Jesus not only a Good Friday, but earned an eternal Easter. And so it is with us. If we strive to make God’s will our own, then we can cling to Paul’s promise: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the imagination what God has prepared for those who love (and trust) him.”

Matthew 27

The body of the Incarnate Word of God was butchered and blasphemed on Good Friday.

His hands, that once held and blessed little children, that raised crippled people to strengthened legs and the dead back to life, that unblocked deaf ears and returned light to blinded eyes, were viciously punctured by Roman nails.

His feet, that walked the Judean hills to proclaim the Good News of the reign of God to the forgotten and downhearted, were securely pinned to rough-hewn timber.

His back, that bent over his carpenter’s bench as he labored to earn his livelihood, was repeatedly sliced open by the executioner’s whip, and our sins, our brokenness, our sufferings and infirmities were laid upon it.

His face, which helped us more easily know and recognize the God who lovingly created us, was anointed with spittle and dirt and violence.

His eyes, filed with compassion and love for the little ones of this world, his eyes, which peered through the veil of eternity…at you…and me, and saw our need for healing and wholeness, now looked out upon the faces taunting him to end his sacrifice of love and come down from the cross.

His heart, Jesus’ Sacred Heart, that beat with desire for the lost and lonely, the outcast and abused, his heart which only asked for the love of his sisters and brothers, and which broke when that love he offered was rejected, was callously torn open, sending a shower of blood and water flowing down his side to the earth which trembled and quaked out of shame and disgust with human cruelty.

The precious body of our Brother Jesus was stripped naked, desecrated and humiliated so that you and I might know true forgiveness, love, freedom and hope.

On that day, Jesus loved you…to death.

Our Brother Jesus was dead, and the skies clouded over thickly.

Our Brother Jesus was dead, and the borrowed tomb was sealed and guarded, while his blood-splattered cross dried in the evening breeze.

Our Brother Jesus was dead, and his frightened followers remembered his words:

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies; it remains just a grain of wheat.

When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.

Love one another as I have loved you.

The Son of Man will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him…

On the third day…he will arise.

He who ransomed us from a life of death and hopelessness, a ransom paid in his priceless blood, rested once more in the darkness of a virgin womb, this one hewn from rock, awaiting his rebirth. It is a rebirth that you and I, because of the sacrifice of Jesus our Brother and Savior, now share in. This rebirth is what our faith and hopes are centered in.

Our Brother Jesus was dead. But look up…for the dawn was breaking…and the sun rising.

Matthew 28

“I am with you always, even to the end of time.” Matthew 28: 20

At the end of Matthew’s gospel the risen Jesus, conqueror of sin and death, of ignorance and stupidity, gathers together with his remaining apostles and commissions them to proclaim the gospel, the good news of his life and teachings, to all the world. A daunting task to say the least. We who have grown up with church and printed scripture and movies and hymns cannot begin to comprehend what it must have been like to preach about a carpenter who was also God enfleshed. And today, the task is no less challenging, especially to a people who have been battered by those who bear the name of the one we preach about. Jesus never commands us to do something he is not willing to help bring about. So the gospel of Matthew ends with a promise:

“I am with you always, even to the end of time.”

That promise is ours also. Jesus looks at his lesbian and gay family members and loudly proclaims:

“I am with you, my oppressed sisters and brothers. I am with you when those who claim to speak in my name emotionally scar you. I am with you when those who claim to act in my name remove you from churches and ministries, when they humiliate you by refusing to listen to you. I am with you when the hard-hearted and fear-filled beat and kill you because they refuse to understand that God’s gifts are manifold and his blessings truly diverse.

I am with you when you struggle to remain with me while others try to convince you that I abhor you. I am with you when life is flooded with sunshine and promise. I am with you when life overflows with pain and confusion. For I have known both sunshine and sorrow, and feasted on the sweet and the bitter.

I am with you. Remain with me. Do not be taken in by the lies of the cramped of heart and small of mind. Know that I am with you, and I want you to remain in me. Make my will for you yours and you will know what joy and love and lasting peace really is. It will not be easy, but remember…I am with you…always.”