Anyone who has been reading my blog regularly knows that I’ve made the case that Saint Matthew is a “works-based” evangelist. I am not suggesting anything radically new or original, its just good to remember that much of Jesus’ teaching is directed at discipleship and ministry. This is especially so in the Gospel of Matthew. Whereas Mark’s Gospel is a bit shorter, and John’s Gospel emphasizes the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah to those who believe, Matthew’s Gospel is, in many parts, a handbook on Christian ministry.
Specifically, the Gospel is about Christians taking up the cross (16:24), turning the other cheek (5:29), forgiving others (18:22), the avoidance of seeking honors and recognition (18:4), being merciful to those in the same way that God is merciful with us (18:33), and literally going the extra mile (5:41) for our brother and sister. Consider the over works-based theology of Matthew 20:1-6
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’
Yet now we have an apparent counterpoint to that position. Jesus says in Matthew 7:22,
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’
But Jesus qualifies his own judgment, depart from me you evil doers. Jesus explains his position with the metaphor of the wise man who builds a house on a good foundation.
“Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”
What is the “good foundation?” Is it faith, at least in this passage? Ironically, no. The “good foundation” in Matthew 7 is he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (7:21). Remember that Peter, the foundation of the church, states that Jesus is the Son of the Living God (16:16). Peter, who is himself a “foundation,” according to Jesus, only knew that Jesus was the Messiah because Peter understood and spoke the Father’s will (16:17).
“What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
The passage at chapter 21 is very works-based. Yet Jesus suggests that “mighty works” alone, are not enough. What Christ is suggesting in chapter 7 is that good intentions, public relations stunts, and going through the motions of pious living (for instance, self-consciously praying in public) are not not always the will of the Father.
Ministry is about discipleship, leadership and the virtues of Christian living. Jesus does not simply ask us to believe: he asks us to discern the will of the Father, and to imitate the pastoral work of Christ.