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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Work on Catechesis as Discipleship (Excursus: Discipleship in Matthew)

Matthew’s Gospel can be considered a manual on discipleship.[1] It is useful, then, to examine the meaning of discipleship in Matthew’s Gospel to determine the form of discipleship in the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry and to gain a better understanding of the discipleship tradition that was developed by Matthew’s faith community in the generations after the resurrection.[2]
            The role of the disciples in Matthew demonstrates the nature of following Jesus. This portrayal is not an idealized version as a pattern for the early church; rather Matthew’s Gospel reveals “disciples who are a realistic display for all Christians.”[3] These disciples “display a normal process of growth. In their response to the call to follow Jesus they embark upon a lifelong adventure that requires single-minded devotion to the Master. But they are not ideal.”[4] The disciples are alternating examples of positive and negative responses to the person and teachings of Jesus.[5] It would not have served the church to prop up idealized disciples who compete with Jesus in the Gospel narrative for the primary place of example for later generations. Rather, the disciples in Matthew are examples of the real-life movement of the believers along the spectrum of faith and loyalty to the Son of God.
            If Matthew’s goal is to present a pattern of discipleship for later generations of believers to follow[6], then how is such a pattern developed? Donaldson suggests a set of statements by Jesus[7] and by the narrator[8] that develop the themes of the person to whom the disciples have given their allegiance and the nature of the relationship established between the disciples and teacher. Further, Edwards rightly sums up Matthew’s pattern of discipleship, saying, “…Discipleship will be viewed as a situation that is never completed, is likely to be inconstant flux, and cannot be idealized. Nevertheless, it requires dedication and denial and especially a need to recognize the deeper significance of Jesus’ teaching.”[9]
            In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is depicted as an “effective teacher” and serves, through his sayings and actions as a teacher to the historical disciples and to the post-resurrection community.[10] Wilkins points to four factors that “emphasize Matthew’s intention to provide in his Gospel resources for discipleship: (1) the major discourses are directed at least in part to the disciples; (2) most of the sayings directed to the disciples are in fact teaching on discipleship; (3) the disciples are portrayed in a positive yet realistic light,; and (4) the disciples are called, trained, and commissioned to carry out their climactic mandate to “make disciples.” The goal of the believer’s life is made clear, and the disciple is outfitted to make more disciples.”[11]
            The making of more disciples is an emphasis in Matthew, made especially clear by the prominent Great Commission in 28:18. This “making” of disciples is the essential task of the post-resurrection community, but how is it accomplished? Who is supposed to be made a disciple? Is there a specific process? If so, when would such a process be finished?
            Certainly a major component of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom was to secure salvation for those who believed, but discipleship extends far beyond the salvific. Wilkins comments that discipleship “includes the process of growth as a disciple…the process would not be exactly the same as what Jesus did with them because the circumstances after Pentecost would change the process. However, the process would be similar in many ways. Specifically, the process of growth is implied in the phrases, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” As a person responds to the invitation to come out of the nations to start life as a disciple, she or he begins the life of discipleship through baptism and through obedience to Jesus’ teaching.”[12] The growth expected of both old and new disciples in Matthew’s Gospel is “accomplished as the new disciple is obedient to what Jesus commanded.”[13] Further, Matthew’s narrative conveys a sense of discipleship that is ongoing and progressive; it is a “situation that is never completed, is likely to be in constant flux, and cannot be idealized. Nevertheless, it requires dedication and denial and especially a need to recognize the deeper significance of Jesus’ teaching.”[14]

[1] Cf. Wilkins, The Concept of Disciple in Matthew’s Gospel, 172, 221.
[2] The scope of this analysis will be limited to the general theological themes of Matthew’s use of the disciples and the concept of discipleship developed in the First Gospel. Care will be taken to avoid literary criticism and redaction criticism that would take this survey into inappropriate directions. For more on these issues, see the Bibliography.
[3] Wilkins, Following the Master, 175.
[4] Ibid. Wilkins is helpful to explain that only Jesus is idealized in the Gospel, not the disciples. He points out, “[the disciples] are special in the work to which they were called in the foundation of the church, but they are at the same time simply common people much like us.”
[5] Ibid., 176.
[6] Wilkins concludes his summary of Jesus’ discipleship teachings by saying, “Matthew’s gospel is intended, at least in part, as a resource tool to help Jesus’ disciples in their task of making and developing future disciples.” Following the Master, 190.
[7] “he speaks of disciples as salt, light, and a mountaintop city (5:13-16); of disciples as called to be like their master (10:24-25), especially in taking up their cross (16:24); and of disciples, inasmuch as they “do the will of my Father in heaven,” as Jesus’ true family (12:46-50).” Donaldson in Longenecker, Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament, 42-43.
[8] “In some cases, Jesus himself maneuvers the disciples into learning situations, as when he tells them to provide food for the crowd (14:16) or puzzles them with an enigmatic comment about the “yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (16:16). On other occasions, outsiders object to the behavior of the disciples, giving Jesus an opportunity to defend and explain the significance of their actions…” Donaldson in Longenecker, Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament, 43.
[9] Edwards, Richard A. in Fernando F. Segovia,  Discipleship in the New Testament, 52.
[10] Wilkins, “Discipleship” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 183.
[11] Ibid. In the same article Wilkins points out “The Evangelists unanimously testify to the imperfections of the disciples, both of the larger group and of the Twelve. At the same time they testify to the growth of the disciples.” Discipleship is not demonstrated as an insider/outsider paradigm; there is an implicit progressive development among the Gospels of which the disciples are paradigmatic.
[12] Wilkins, Following the Master, 189.
[13] Ibid., 190.
[14] Edwards, Richard A. in Fernando F. Segovia (ed.), Discipleship in the New Testament, 52.

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