I just spent some time putting together a factual summation of Matthew. I think the biggest take-away is that the writer is not the best storyteller — pretty bad actually. My favorite part is the Sermon on the Mount near the beginning, but the end of the book is weak and paints Jesus in a negative light.
To characterize Jesus as he’s depicted in the first third of the book, he’s a guy that’s excited to get out there and help people and change the world. He truly cares about the common man and he wants the system to care too. He’s all about changing everyone’s perception of the world, helping them to experience existence without sickness and suffering. He wants everyone to get along and appreciate the world that’s been provided for them. He’s like a proud son that wants people to understand the great thing his dad made, and he’s doing what he can to fix any problems he sees along the way.
To characterize Jesus as he’s depicted in the last two-thirds, he’s a guy that’s disillusioned by the people he’s trying to save. He’s surrounded by incompetent followers that can’t understand him. He’s bordering on petulant at some points. Plus he constantly argues with, and outright insults, the religious leaders of his day — they may be wrong, but his methodology runs counter to his earlier message. Instead of a proud son, he seems like he’s given up and just wants to head home. It sounds like he had the highest of hopes when he arrived but the people’s rejection of all that’s good in life just sent him reeling.
Overall, way too little time is spent on his actual message and frankly it gets overshadowed by the dour ending. The final scenes are undramatic and anticlimactic, they’re over too quickly and lack significance. If I had to recommend the best section to read, I’d say chapters 4 through 9.
Although, the more I think about it, perhaps that’s the author’s point: the dejection Jesus feels because of the people’s unrelenting negativity. We the people blatantly choose negativity despite the available alternative. Jesus tried and tried to make people see the light before them, but they kept turning again and again toward darkness. People aren’t necessarily choosing evil, but they’re choosing pessimism and hopelessness.
Jesus kept saying that the kingdom of heaven is at hand — which can only mean that it’s literally within our grasp right here and now — it’s not a fantasy realm that awaits us in death — THIS is the fantasy realm, the one we’re experiencing right now. And when we realize that, the world can fulfill every wish we have if we simply allow it, all we need is faith the size of a mustard-seed.
But no, what do we choose? Barabbas, the notorious prisoner — again and again. Yet by choosing so, we imprison ourselves within bars of our own negativity. A gift given yet we reject it, criticize it, look for the worst in every crevice. Yet this gift-giver doesn’t give up, no, but provides us another chance — His son, His messenger comes to make us aware of our error. This world IS the garden He created, we’ve been in paradise the entire time, yet our perspective has poisoned the perfection that surrounds.
And all that is required of us, is to receive — graciously and with appreciation of course. When we read Matthew we should be shaken-awake by the sight of a light so bright extinguished unceremoniously by mankind’s pessimism. The message Matthew brings is that it’s not too late… Christmas isn’t over yet! We’ve received the greatest gift imaginable and we still have time to enjoy it.