Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Power of the Imaginative Story: Matthew (part 1)

I appreciate good storytellers. For me, the gospel-writer Matthew ranks up with the best crafters of words that serve to foster a hopeful imagination (as the scholar Walter Brueggemann titled one of his great books) in the readers.

Here’s an example of Matthew’s work:

"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them . . ." (Matthew 4:23-5:2)

Can you see yourself in this story, following Jesus around, elbow-to-elbow with people who have gathered with the hope that their loved ones and friends will be healed in their bodies and minds? It’s a diverse group, made up of pilgrims coming from different parts of the region, giving evidence to Jesus’ broad reputation as a healer.

The picture that Matthew paints here sets the stage for what is coming next. There is nothing abstract and legalistic about the words that Jesus is about to speak. Instead, what he will say is personal, purposeful, deconstructive and reconstructive. Jesus will not offer a new set of laws that will take the place of the old forms of religious legislation; he will set people free into a new kind of living that demands honesty about the human condition yet draws people into relationship with both God and human beings in ways that crash against the boundaries of culture.

Jesus brings healing to those who were suffering, people brought to him by those who were not afflicted by disease and pain. Jesus sees them all, and he then he moves up the side of the mountain. I imagine him sitting in a place that provides an expansive view of the valley below him, not posturing himself as a lecturer behind a podium, but rather as an observer, one who has come from the gathering of the people and now reflects on who they are and how they might live in the hopefulness that comes from a life centered in God.

Jesus sits down and his disciples come to him, sitting around him, waiting for their teacher to speak. I imagine him, as he prepares to lead his friends into new depths of understanding, looking past them, over their heads, toward the crowds below who are now a gathered people who have just experienced healing in their midst.

Jesus sees them clearly. Then he begins to speak. And the first words that his friends hear are not about them. These words are about those that Jesus sees in the valley below.

People like us.

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