I am teaching an applied hermeneutics course at Asbury Theological Seminary. It focuses on the text of Matthew’s Gospel. I am working hone a missional approach to Scripture as a key lens for appropriating the message of the text in the West for the 21st century.
When I talk about a missional hermeneutic, one of the key questions that I am asked is this: Is a missional reading or hermeneutic something that we as readers impose on the text?
My short answer is this: A missional reading of the Bible arises out of a close reading of the text itself. The reader however does bring the issue of mission as part of the investigation. This is not a foreign imposition on the text because the Bible itself assumes mission. We have often missed the missional element in Scripture because we have grown up in a Church culture in which mission was not at the center. This was not the case for the recipients of Matthew’s Gospel. The NT (and the OT) assumes mission. If we are to understand truly the Scriptures, we need to locate our own readings within a context of missional engagement with the world.
How can I say that Matthew assumes mission?
Here are some representative texts and comments:
1) The Gospel of Matthew reaches its zenith in Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples to Make Disciples (Matt 28:18-20). Notices that this is not merely a call for certain followers to serve as ambassadors. It is the mission of all followers of Jesus. This was true in the initial call to “follow Jesus and learn to fish for people” (4:19). The book of Matthew is a manual on missional discipleship.
The Great Commission is the no brainer “mission” text, but Matthew from beginning to end is about Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom and call of disciples to follow him into the world announcing the good news.
2) Matthew opens with a genealogy (1:1-17). Part of this genealogy affirms Jesus as “Son of Abraham”. It was to be through Abraham that “all peoples of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). The possibility of persons outside of Israel being saved is opened up through references to Abraham in the Gospel of Matthew (see Matt 3:9 and 8:11). Moreover, Jesus’ ministry begins in “Galilee of gentiles” (4:15) and Jesus gives the Great Commission from Galilee (28:16–20).
3) Matthew focuses on the inclusion of outsiders in the scope of Jesus’ mission. This begins with the Magi (2:1-12) and continues on with Jesus’ ministry to those outsiders desperate for the Kingdom (see especially Jesus’ mighty acts in chapters 8-9). Who are the recipients of Jesus’ ministry? Lepers, foreigners, women, Roman centurions, tax collectors. This is a significant demonstration of the expansion of the scope of Israel’s ministry through the person of Jesus the Messiah.
4) Jesus’ ministry begins with his calling of the first disciples (4:18-22) on the heels of his initial proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven (4:17). This is a significant linkage of the core of Jesus’ message and the necessity of calling together a new community. This community is given a missional ethos from its beginning as Jesus calls this new community to follow him into the world on mission. Jesus even models incarnational language by describing the fishermen’s new evangelistic vocation as “fishing for people.”
5) Jesus practices boundary -breaking ministry. After teaching the ethos of the Kingdom for his disciples (Matt 5–7), he then models it in a series of mighty acts in Matt 8:1–9:34. Jesus does not allow uncleanness, foreignness, or sexism to stop the advance of the kingdom.
6) The “missionary discourse” (Matt 9:35-11:1) is Jesus’ empowerment and deployment of his followers to engage in the same sort of ministry that he had modelled for them in Matt 5-9. The Gospel of Matthew serves to teach God’s people how to live as a holy missional community to/for/in the world.
7) Jesus does not call persons to faith faith per se. Instead, Jesus calls people to “follow me”. This is significant. The Christian life is not merely about right thinking; it is about right living as well. But right living cannot be subsumed under the heading of ethics. Instead the ethos of the Christ following movement is centered on mission. When Jesus called persons to follow him, Jesus led them on mission. This is model for the Christ following movement. The Risen Christ continues to lead his people on mission to save the universe (Matt 28:20).
What do you think? What else would you add?© 2007 with significant revisions in 2009 and 2015.