Herein I continue to work through Matthew to put together a rough character sketch of God as He is presented in this gospel narrative. Today we consider two more elements of God’s character:
The coming Kingdom, of course, looks nothing like a kingdom we might expect. So in what glimpses we have of it, we meet God as an Agent of Subversion who acts in a classically divine way: unexpectedly. A human-ordered kingdom is inevitably (Augustinian-ly?) backward and disordered, as we note in 1 Samuel 8, when the Israelites forsake God’s direct leadership and demand a monarchy. So God’s messianic kingdom, in which sin is defeated and justice prevails, is different from what we would assume.
The greatest examples of such reversals are the Beatitudes (Mt. 5). According to the logic of the world — of Caesar and of Pharaoh — the poor inherit nothing. The meek are trampled by the strong. The peacemakers are thrown in jail for refusing military service. The stone the builders refuse is cast aside, and the last stay last. But in the Kingdom, God disrupts these expectations, seeing His eventual justice to fruition.
And He goes even further: Justice itself takes on new meaning in the Kingdom, as Jesus commands followers of the Living God to forsake reciprocity and take up forgiveness and victimhood: “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Mt. 5:39-40). Jesus turns on its head the notion of the conquering messiah; indeed, his followers will forsake their families and will meet certain persecution. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death,” he warns. “All men will hate you because of me” (Mt. 10:21-22).
We have discussed thus far various characters of God presented in Matthew and their resultant human responses: King and subject; architect and participant; provider and beneficiary; subversive agent and giver of trust. But these four categories alone do not add up to the fullness of God’s relationship with man.
Their sum is greater than their parts. For the drama and action in the gospel — indeed, in all the biblical narratives and stories of God’s people — are driven by God’s steadfast love for humanity and His desire that mankind love Him just the same. This is the motive behind sending a messiah at all; it is the motive behind the covenant that promises such a messiah; it is the motive behind the choosing of a people with whom to make that covenant; and it is the motivation for the very creation of those people.
Love, indeed, is the highest Good, and so it makes sense that the greatest of all relationships between man and God is also the greatest of all commandments — to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul (Mt. 22:37). God loves us with all the fervor and ferocity of a shepherd after a lost sheep (Mt. 18:10-14), with a love that swallows death whole. And so we, too, are to love God with a love that is bigger and stronger than acts of piety, a sincere and effusive love that allows us to see Him for who He is and see our neighbor for who she is. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two loves.