And now I’ve come to the end of Matthew. (Phew!) Many thanks to those of you who have read this far and commented, especially to Roger for his many insights. (And I apologize if I mischaracterize his point of view below.)
I came in expecting to dislike a lot of what I read, and I wasn’t disappointed in that. God is presented as a figure of petty evil; Jesus is working in support of that. Or at least, that’s how I initially read it; as Roger pointed out, prophecy isn’t necessary inherently moral, it can be simply descriptive, and warnings of evil are useful.
But, as I read further, I felt less and less that those statements were directed at me. Roger’s comments helped me see this more as an exercise of community forming within an existing Jewish community; most of Jesus’s strongest attacks are directed at the existing Jewish priestly elite, he explicitly abstains from opportunities to attack the secular government of the time, and he probably doesn’t care at all about an atheist on another continent two millennia later! The prophecies about the arrival of the kingdom of heaven within a generation also helped me root these statements as concerning a battle involving specific people in a specific time and place.
I was surprised by my reaction to Jesus’s healing: I expected to like that uncritically, but the repetition eventually got to me. That probably says more about me (and not in a particularly good light!) than about anything in the text, however.
And I was also expecting to find a lot to like, and I wasn’t disappointed in that, either. So many strong statements about forgiveness, my favorite of which was the passage about turning the other cheek. Linked to that are statements about not judging others but instead judging yourself (the mote in thy brother’s eyes), and statements about caring for others, and of faith in the generosity of humanity; great stuff on page after page.
I’m glad to have gone through this exercise; but it’s also been a lot more work than I expected! I’m still planning to read through the rest of the gospels, but I’m certainly not planning to do many posts on them; if something catches my eye, I’ll write about it, otherwise not. Again, my thanks to those of you who have stuck with me; to those of you who think this topic has more than overstayed its welcome, I reassure you that I’ll soon be back to my normal program of video game pontification combined with occasional bits on software development…
This post has not been revised since publication.