09 Mar Preaching the Gospel of Matthew – Book Review
Preaching the Gospel of Matthew:
Proclaiming God’s Presence
Stanley P. Saunders
Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 2010
325 pages, $25.00, paper
Reviewed by Rock LaGioia, Th.M., D.Min.
Associate Professor of Pastoral Studies
Director, Doctor of Ministry
Grace Theological Seminary
Winoa Lake, Indiana
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Stanley P. Saunders, Associate Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, has written a helpful exegetical/homiletical commentary for those who want to preach from Matthew’s Gospel.
According to the traditional view, Matthew’s goal is to point out how Jesus is the Messiah who was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. But, according to Saunders, the two-sided goal of the Gospel of Matthew is to point out how Jesus is the defining expression of God’s presence and to draw attention to the differences between human powers and God’s power.
Saunders has structured his commentary simply: “I have followed primarily Matthew’s scheme of alternating narratives and discourses, while reminding readers here and there of other structural factors at work” (xv-xvi). Saunders believes that Matthew attempts to train readers to wrestle with interpretive problems as he presents “unresolved (and sometimes unresolvable) tensions . . . Faith is nurtured in the tensions, not the certainties” (xvi). Some might respond that faith is nurtured by the certainties and can be nurtured in the “tensions.”
Saunders’ philosophy of exegesis reveals his approach to the text. “We usually think that the goal of exegesis is to uncover the meaning(s) in a text. But ‘meaning’ is discovered more in the dialogues that transpire between interpreters, their communities and worlds, the text, the worlds of the text, and the tradition. Making meaning is always messy” (xvi). There are those who hold to a philosophy of exegesis which sees the locus of meaning in the divine Author’s intent as discovered in the objective text instead of in the human readers’ subjective response to the text.
With regard to interpreting the parables, Saunders does not hold to one overall central truth or one point linked to each main character. Rather, the parables “often feature images that may be understood in multiple ways. Matthew wants us not to settle on just one of these as the ‘right way’ to hear the parables, but to grapple with the parables’ many facets and discover the diverse ways they may speak to or even entrap us” (xvi).
Matthew’s Gospel, according to Saunders, is an ongoing polemic against human power. After noting that the Jewish leaders are the most prominent opponents of God’s Rule, Saunders asserts that the “kingdom of heaven” is “God’s alternative to the empire of Rome. . . . Matthew’s story of Jesus thus contests Rome’s exercise of power and construction of reality, including its imperial theology” (xvii-xviii).