Coming in the Fall, the Thursday Noon Bible study will be focusing on the Gospel of Matthew. It is a difficult and strange gospel to decipher. Beginning with things like the Sermon on the Mount, it grows increasingly “violent” as it unfolds. Today we are nearing the end of the book, and hearing about the destruction of the Temple, signs of the end of the age, persecutions, death and destruction – including corpses and vultures.
As I wake up to this violent world (and I think we went one whole day without a mass shooting – oooo, I think we set a record!!!), I wake up to news of another police shooting – a black man in Minneapolis being pulled over for a broken tail light, and ultimately being shot to death. While I don’t know the details, evidently while he was producing his license and registration he also mentioned to the officer he had a gun in the car and a license to carry it, and was shot four times while still in his car with his young daughter in the backseat. He later died.
The insane amount of violence in this country makes me want to pass the offering plate requesting to collect EVERY gun in this country, including those that officers carry. I’d prefer to issue stun guns instead. Why on earth everyone feels the need to have lethal force on them at all times is beyond me. So I wake up to that news and wonder how much more violence I can take. Matthew, and Jesus’ combative words seem to fall on deaf ears. Like I need another violent tale!
What I needed to quickly remind myself of was that Matthew is not where we hear predictions about the violent end of the world, but a gospel in which we enter the strange, symbolic world of apocalyptic literature. We speak of the “second coming.” What I needed to remember is that this chapter is really about the ultimate victory of God. These words sound like comfort to the 1st Century ear. Really.
It is with this cautionary tale, I encourage you to embrace the end of the Matthew’s gospel. Don’t look and see violence. That is not what is happening. It is a story about hope told through a story of violence. It would be like me retelling the story of “Philando Castile: Driving in Minneapolis While Being Black” and having the brutal and violent tale end with combating racism, hatred, and violence all together. The story of apocalyptic literature is like this – using violence as an instrument to declare an ultimate embrace, and peace at the last, where God reaches out on a hurting world and washes us all clean.
We are in desperate need of this as a people – to feel the release from this doomed world, and glimpse the life beyond that God offers us, one free of violence and discord of all kinds. As we turn to the God of Israel we may hear frighteningly familiar tales of God & Violence, but we can rest assured that God calls us beyond it all to a day when all find forgiveness, peace, and hope at the table together.