Cost and Promise: discipleship

27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct. 28 Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

One’s Motivation. The opening word “for” connects the judgment scene of v.27 with all the text regarding the disciple’s steadfastness and commitment to follow Jesus: it is worth remaining faithful even to the loss of earthly life because there is an ultimate judgment to come, and on the outcome of that judgment the enjoyment of true life will depend.

The imagery within this single verse echoes Daniel 7:9-10, the scene of judgment at the throne of the Ancient of Days. As well it points to Daniel 7:14 where the Son of Man receives “dominion, glory, and kingship” over all nations. It perhaps relies upon the eschatological coming of God and “all the holy ones” in Zechariah 14:5. But in this fusion the OT roles of judge and king are merged – roles once ascribed to God, and now more pointedly ascribed to Jesus.

As judge, he will “he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” The whole clause closely echoes Ps 62:12 (cf. Prov 24:12), which speaks of God’s universal judgment; again language appropriate to God himself is transferred to the glorified Son of Man. “Repay” is used for divine rewards in 6:4, 6, and 18, and here too the primary emphasis in context is probably on the reward for steadfastness even to the point of martyrdom, the reward which results in finding one’s psychē. But the term is no less applicable to punishment for refusing to follow Jesus, and a judgment of every person “according to his conduct” must be expected to envisage either reward or punishment, as will be spelled out more fully in 25:31–46. This saying is thus not only an encouragement to the faithful, but also a warning to those whose loyalty may be wavering. “Conduct” is a broad term, but in the present context the focus is not on lifestyle in general, but on whether or not they have maintained their commitment to Jesus in the face of persecution. A more focused perspective on the basis of final judgment will be provided in 25:31–46 (separation of the sheep and goats).

The Praxis of Our Faith – a thought

When one looks at the whole of the gospel, the emphasis was as much upon doing as believing. The story of Jesus does not generate a set of theological propositions, although “God is love” might qualify. The story of Jesus does is part of the Revelation of God’s Self to us – a revelation that is as complex and mysterious as St. Irenaeus’ statement, “truly God, truly man.” And instantly we begin to ask “how?” But we have to remember we are asking “how” of what is a mystery to our human understanding. What we can do is to continually reflect upon the story, upon the revelation.

Reflecting on the story of Jesus, it is clear that he asks a lot of tasks of his disciples – tasks not always terribly specific or clearly defined. Take one example: the task to love our neighbor. A simple task that requires us to reflect on just who is my neighbor and what might love be in this situation?

Word and action, action and reflection, theory and practice are all facets of the same idea. The word that is sometimes used to describe this is praxis. It is not simply action based on reflection. It is action which embodies certain qualities. These include a commitment to God, our neighbor and the search for truth. It is the action of people who are free, people who have received grace and forgiveness and want to share that grace with others. Moreover, Christian praxis is always risky. It requires that a person engages with the world, makes a judgment about how to act in this or that situation.

It is in the doing and reflecting that our faith is strengthened. Doing on its own is not enough. Believing on its own is not enough. Discipleship requires both. And after the doing, reflecting on meaning, values and our encounter with God in the world. Accepting grace for our failures and continuing to walk in the way of discipleship.

Notes

Matthew 16:27 conduct: The word praxin means “activity, action, deed” Other modern translation prefer “what has been done” rather than “conduct.” Certainly both are appropriate, but perhaps “conduct” points to a broader way of life than any individual or accumulated acts within the life.

Sources

  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007)
  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) 348-52
  • Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Book, 2000) 337-41
  • R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007) 630-41
  • R.T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989)
  • Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) 246-52
  • Daniel J. Harrington, “Matthew” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 886-7
  • Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2009) 431-35
  • John P. Meier, Matthew, New Testament Message 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990)
  • D. Turner and D.L. Bock, Matthew and Mark in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005)

Dictionaries

  • David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996)
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)

Scripture: The New American Bible available on-line at http://www.usccb.org

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