The Mission of the Church According to Matthew: Lessons

For Our Time*















Professor Ukachukwu Chris Manus

The Catholic University of Eastern Africa

Department of Religious Studies

Nairobi, Kenya.

















*Paper Read at the International Meeting of the Society for New Testament Studies (SNTS), in the Seminar Group 12: The Mission of the Church: Exegesis and Hermeneutics, at the University of Bonn, Germany, July 29-August 2, 2003.










In contemporary times, experienced and specialist missionary personnel have come to acknowledge that the word, mission has come to mean different things to different people and in different cultural settings. J. Verkuyl opines that mission is ¬°¬įthe specific activity of apostellein¬°¬Ī that is, to send (Verkuyl 1978:2). For Verkuyl, mission can, in an applied science of the term, fully be understood as ¬°¬įthe missionary action of God and the men and women he mandates¬°¬Ī (Verkuy:2). Madge Karecki also defines mission literally as ¬°¬įto be sent¬°¬Ī (1999:1). Donal Dorr in his study, Mission in Today¬°¬Įs World, expands the sense as he asserts that mission is ¬°¬įa process of evangelization ‚Äď the attempt of the followers of Jesus to share in the task of bringing good news to the world¬°¬Ī (Dorr 2000:11). There is no doubt that the notion of ¬°¬įsending¬°¬Ī underlies these definitions.


A close reading of the Gospel of Matthew reveals that the evangelist, in his collection of the early Christian traditions, gives hint on two essential levels of mission; namely the mission of Jesus under God and the mission of the Matthean church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the one aimed at the Palestinian rural society and the other re-addressed to a church made up of ¬°¬įthe little ones¬°¬Ī in Antioch who lived in tension with the synagogue (Carter 2000:27-32). What I mean here is that Jesus¬°¬Į mission to the bnaiya Israel, the simple-folk of Israel had become for Matthew a model for his church in the context of the actual field situation. In a later stage of the development of the Gospel traditions, the empowerment, mission and work of Jesus have become preached to a wider community as a prototype of the mission of the Church. In other words, it has become a missio ad Gentes. The mission of the Church is thus portrayed as having a scriptural foundation and there is no other author than Matthew who has masterfully documented the earliest trajectory of this missionary movement. From the exposition of some passages, evidence will be provided to prosper the argument that the mission of God in Jesus under the empowerment of the Spirit according to Matthew translates into the mission of the Matthean Church. For Matthew, it is equally right to argue that to say ¬°¬įchurch¬°¬Ī is to say ¬°¬įmission¬°¬Ī.


Mutatis mutandis, Jesus¬°¬Į mission has significant bearing on the contemporary world Church. It is with this point in mind that the pattern of the Matthean account of the mission of Jesus will be used to promote the lessons mission of the Church needs to appropriate in order to confront the challenges facing contemporary missionary activities; especially in this postmodern age. In what follows, I wish to follow the seven-structure made on the Gospel by the translators of The African Bible (1999).


Mission in the Infancy Narrative

Right from the opening chapters of the Gospel, mission is portrayed as the heartbeat of the reality of the incarnation of Jesus as the righteous teacher in his Church and the world. Matthew espouses a Jesus who is the promised Messiah and whose mission ushers in the dawn of the reign of God. This messianic mission is obliquely established in the Infancy Narrative and later portrayed throughout the entire Gospel. Firstly, the heavenly being, an angel is sent to a simple folk man, Joseph to claim the responsibility of ¬°¬įfathering¬°¬Ī the incarnated Son of God, the Savior of his people Israel and the world (vv.21-23). According to Carter, from this point on, the mission of the Matthean church begins to proclaim that Jesus is the one who manifests God¬°¬Įs presence (Carter 2000:34).

The story of the magi opens with a journey, a mission of discovery as they have seen a star at its rising (Carter:75). They travel to the Holy City (Matt 4,5). In other words, these learned priests of Persia, men of wisdom and astrologers discover the infant; recognize him as a king and go to pay the king of the Jews oriental homage and adoration. They announce his birth and mission to Herod. The magi and the star are dangerous, Carter remarks. Their predictions and interpretations often associated with events like the fall of kings and emperors and birth of new kings threaten people and challenge political stability (Carter:74-76). They traveled back to their country to proclaim the news of the birth of the king of the Jews, the savior of the world to the nations. According to Gundry, ¬°¬įthe coming of the magi previews the entrance of disciples from all nations in the circle of those who acknowledge Jesus as the king of the Jews and worship him as God¬°¬Ī (Gundry 1994:26). For Matthew, here and in the Passion Narrative, it is the Gentiles who recognize Jesus¬°¬Į messiahship (Matt 27,54). It is the mission of these representatives of the nations that destabilized the House of Herod and whole Jerusalem that led to the horrendous slaughter of over twenty infants (boys); an ugly incident that is attested to in the Gospel and the social political history of the period (Brown 1979:166-201).


Another spectacular aspect of mission in the Infancy Narrative is the ¬°¬įsending out¬°¬Ī of the boy-child, Jesus with the father and the mother to Egypt in the African soil to take refuge from the ¬°¬įethnic cleansing¬°¬Ī declared by Herod (du Toit 1988:236). By this story, Matthew is saying that Africa still has a place in the history of salvation and mission in the new dispensation. The legend that had grown out of this travel has emboldened both the Coptic and Ethiopian Christianity to undertake great missionary endeavors. In the return from Egypt, Matthew depicts Jesus¬°¬Į homecoming mission ¬°¬įto the land of Israel¬°¬Ī (Matt 2,19-23) this time around, Jesus is settled in Nazareth of the Galilean province. It is from this ¬°¬ģmessianic hometown¬°¬Į that the mission of Jesus heads down country.


Mission in Jesus¬°¬Į Proclamation of the Reign of God

(Matt 3,1-7,29)

While in Matthew, Jesus is the pioneer of the Missio Dei, there are other personages who carry out mission in the Gospel tradition. In this section, Jesus¬°¬Į mission and proclamation of the Reign of God are preceded by the mission of John the Baptist (Matt 3,1-12). John¬°¬Įs preaching on the need for change of attitude and behavior in readiness for the coming kingdom is a significant signpost in the Matthean mission trajectory. John is sent to prepare the way for Jesus so that he can reach out to people, places and situations. The daring mission of resistance John preaches brings him in confrontation with Jewish religious authorities (vv.7-10). The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (Matt 3,13-17) by John is shown as the actual moment of his spiritual empowerment and divinization for the tasks of the mission ahead of him. In John¬°¬Įs baptism, the old is linked with the new. For Matthew and the other evangelists (vv. 16-17), Jesus¬°¬Į baptism marks the inauguration of a new phase in the mission of God. When John was arrested and detained, it dawned on Jesus that the new phase in his mission has arrived. The empowered Jesus is tested by the devil; in other words, his mission also brings him in confrontation with the interests of the evil one. For three times, the trial raged on. In the end, Jesus emerges as the new Moses ever obedient to the commandments of God (Manus 1998:21-40). Thus Jesus was tried and proven the true Son of God. He emerges as a true missionary worthy of emulation by his disciples. The ministration of the angels (v.11) fortifies his resolve to launch his public mission.


Matthew starts him off from Galilee. And from Capernaum, he commences preachment on the dawn of ¬°¬įthe kingdom of heaven¬°¬Ī as the age of liberation and one that calls for a U-turn that must be matched with a change of mind and behavior. In the scenic shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus recognizes the need to gather some disciples for the onerous task ahead; that is, the first call to mission (Matt 4, 18-20). He invites four fishermen, one Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew and later James and John, the sons of Zebedee. At this juncture Matthew recounts how Jesus carries out his initial mission in the service of a great multitude in Galilee (4,23-25). In this region, Jesus fulfills the role of a prophetic missionary to his people. He communicates the good news of ¬°¬įlife for ever with God¬°¬Ī. Faith-healing, an integral aspect of his mission dominates the narrative. He fights against all types of illnesses, liberates people from all evils and casts out demons ‚Äď all to usher in a better quality of life for the people of God. For Matthew, Jesus the founder of the church, is sent to demolish the powers of sin and evil, liquidate bad spirits and heal all diseases.


An outstanding Matthean portrayal of mission of the church in his Gospel is the presentation of the magisterial role of Jesus on the mountain setting as the ¬°¬įnew legislator greater than Moses¬°¬Ī teaching the crowd (Gundry 1994:7). The presence of the crowds (4,23-25) and the re-utilization of the term in 7,28 confirm the fact that the sermon on the Mount is the hallmark of mission executed in the Matthean church. As Gundry notes, the crowds remain proper subjects, virgin lands for mission (10,23) and they prefigure the church (Gundry: 28). It is a mission ad intra here formulated by the evangelist as a teaching of his church to the faithful disciples. Often, people are given to think that mission only means winning new lands, new souls and building new churches. In Matt 5-7, the evangelist impresses it upon us that mission involves prophetic criticism of oppressive establishments as Judaism of the Second Temple Period and its inauthentic leadership that cooperated with imperialist agents to exploit the members of the Jewish society. He proclaims a Jesus who denounces the teaching and traditions of the Pharisees, the Scribes and the Rabbis. He proclaims a Jesus who is a teacher of righteousness and who legislates the law that his disciples are to obey (28,30). The injunction to be ¬°¬įsalt and light¬°¬Ī of the world is a call to mission and evangelism to heed the anguished cries of the oppressed. Here is an example of how Matthew narrates what should be the relation between the good news of Jesus Christ and other religious systems that do not acknowledge his Lordship.


Mission in Galilee

                                                            (Matt 8,1-11,1)

In this unit, Matthew has gathered a catena of eight healing episodes as if Galilee, the home region of Jesus is peopled left and right by the infirm and the diseased. This is to portray Galilee as ¬°¬įa messianic hometown¬°¬Ī (Gundry 1994:36). The narrative block opens with the account of the cleansing of the Leper just after Jesus¬°¬Į descent from the mountain (Manus 203:139-151). For the evangelist, Jesus¬°¬Į mission is marked by miracle breakthroughs as sure signs of God¬°¬Įs salvific intervention in history. Matthew wishes to tell his readers that Jesus¬°¬Į mission reveals that the eschatological age has indeed dawned. It is an age for people to have faith and get set to allow God¬°¬Įs reign take over their lives. Besides, in this localized mission scenario, Matthew provides vent for understanding Jesus¬°¬Į mission outreach as mission of the church.


Matthew does not demure in showing Jesus extending his mission beyond the Jewish race and nation. Jesus restores the health of a foreigner ‚Äď the Centurion¬°¬Įs servant (Matt 8, 5-13). The evangelist is gratified to narrate to his church that the Centurion, a Gentile professional soldier is the first to confess Jesus¬°¬Į divine authority (Cf. Matt 27,54) (Manus 1985:172-195). This missio ad extra is for him one of the distinctions that characterize Jesus¬°¬Į universal mission. In Matthew¬°¬Įs understanding mission must press on the confession of Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God (also in 16,16-19). In Matthew, Jesus did not disdain those outside the fold as unredeemed and God-forsaken human rebels.


The unit is concluded with what I prefer to call Operation First Deliver the House of Israel. At times, the mission of the church in Matthew is parochial. This is attested by the warnings sounded in the narrative that suggest resistance from local Jewish leaders. According to Gundry, the Jewish mission is portrayed quite significantly by Matthew in 1,1;9,27;12,23 (Gundry 1994:8). Disciples are mandated to carry on a special mission to the Jewish masses under the leadership of the twelve (10, 5-6;10,23;15,23-24;17,24-27). He confers them with the authority to do battle with unclean spirits and all sorts of ill health that hold the people of God in bondage. The names of those that are sent are given, twelve in all (10,2-4). They are commissioned and instructed not to minister in pagan lands and Samaria but they are sent ¬°¬įto the lost sheep of the house of Israel¬°¬Ī (10,6). The Operation is to take Jesus¬°¬Į footsteps in mission. Mission in Matthew involves rooting out all false disciples along with the devil and his angels and giving them over to eternal punishment (Gundry:9). Robert H. Gundry further remarks that a certain level of suffering characterized the mission among the Jews as there are false disciples and false prophets from the Pharisaic groups, who in attempt to avoid persecution, water down the high standards set by Jesus (Gundry 1994:6). Disciples have had cause to flee for their lives (10,23). Those who flee, become itinerant missionaries. Even though they lack clothes, drinks, and are often sick and imprisoned, mission in Matthew is not stifled by persecution. In the face of the persecution from Jewish authorities (5,13-16), they still dare the authorities and preach the gospel publicly. In spite of the situation, Jesus undertakes urban and neighborhood mission (11,1). And despite the fact that mission is a dangerous undertaking, Matthew enjoins faithful disciples to continue the aluta by obeying Christ¬°¬Įs law and by proclaiming it. I wish to agree some commentators that the insertion of the Healing of the Centurion¬°¬Įs Servant within a block dealing with missio ad intra can be attributed to the evangelist¬°¬Įs re-ordering of the received Q-material into his original tradition (Gundry:10).




Doubts and Opposition in Mission

(Matt 11,2-13,53)

Although the evangelist depicts Jesus¬°¬Į mission in a state of the art manner, all is not without difficulties. Like John before him, Jesus engages in a mission of resistance and confrontation. In the dialogue between him and the disciples sent by John who is now incarcerated and languishing in jail, we encounter a number of verbal expressions suggestive of doubts of the real identity of Jesus (Manus 2002: 117-118). We read that he (John), ¬°¬įsent ¬°¬¶¬°¬Ī; and that Jesus said to them, ¬°¬įGo and tell ¬°¬¶¬°¬Ī. These verbs are carefully chosen to convey very significant mission themes. What do the ¬°¬įsent¬°¬Ī hear and see?¬† Matthew¬°¬Įs Jesus charges them to go back to John to report that in the new phase of mission launched by him,

                        The blind regain sight; the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed;

                        the deaf hear; the dead are raised; and the poor have the good news

                        proclaimed to them (Matt 11,5-6)


The people of God are shown to acknowledge the laudable objectives of Jesus¬°¬Į mission in bringing people whole to God; especially the downtrodden. Matthew shows in a number of instances Jesus at prayer. He taught his disciples to pray to God as father. In his prayers, he recognizes God as his father (Matt 11,25-27). And he recognizes himself as Son of God. His assurance of divine sonship is fundamental to his mission.


The mission of the Matthean church is best depicted in the emerging opposition the religious leaders meet out to Jesus (12,1‚ÄĒ8;9-14). The cure of the Blind and Mute demoniac (12,22-32), the Tree and its Fruits (vv. 33-32) and the Sign of Jonah (vv. 38-42) ‚Äď are all Matthew¬°¬Įs reflections on opposition to Jesus¬°¬Į mission. While they defend the Sabbath laws, Matthew uses the occasion to portray Jesus as the re-interpreter of the law in its halakhic context. For Matthew, Jesus has authority over the law. He presents Jesus carrying out his mission with a denunciation of Pharisaic legalism that suppresses the people of God than it liberates. The mission of the church of Matthew brings about new forms of serving and worshipping God than the Jewish rituals and observances.


In chapter 13, we are treated to a cluster of parables; seven in all, indeed picture-talks that explain different levels of crisis Jesus¬°¬Į mission encounters. The parables are gathered by the evangelist to help edify the readers¬°¬Į understanding of a reality that is otherwise imperceptibly obscure in meaning. But what are the values of the parables in the mission of the church in the First Gospel? They reflect modes of reading and re-interpretation of a hidden reality in the Matthean ecclesial context. Jesus uses the parables to convey the message of the nature of the kingdom he preaches. In the Parable of the Sower, for example, Jesus alludes to the vicissitudes of his mission. It is an example of Matthew¬°¬Įs post-Easter narrative. In the face of hardships, failures and disappointments, the church of Christ is likened to a tiny seed, so weak and insignificant, almost invisible but which much later slowly but gradually blossomed into a huge church. There is no doubt that it belongs to mission to make the good news explicit by using literary and interpretative devices such as parables, idioms, word-plays and even drama in the mission and evangelization of peoples and their cultures particularly in Africa and other not-too literary societies.


Miracle Stories and Leadership Roles as Mission in Matthew

(Matt 13,54-18.35)

In this unit, Matthew passes on specific injunctions to stabilize the Matthean church, teachings that have made the First Gospel be received over the centuries as the Gospel of the Church. Matthew makes bold to show that despite the misunderstanding and rejection of Jesus by his own people, the hidden and all-powerful God manifests himself through his incarnation and mission (13, 54-58). Chapters 14,22-16.12 present us with a series of miracle stories: narratives that prove Jesus as messianic missionary. The miracles attest that God¬°¬Įs reign is both present and imminent. The miracles help silence the incredulity of the Pharisees and the Sadducees who reject him and induce the others to disbelieve in him. In 15,1-20, Matthew¬°¬Įs Jesus disagrees with the Pharisees and the Scribes on the Tradition of the Elders. He defends the disciples and accuses the opponents of gross misinterpretation of the law on matters relating to justice to the common people. Here is a mission of resistance and confrontation in which Jesus takes a bold and courageous step to righten things. The story has its Sitz im Leben in early Christian denial of the efficacy of traditional Jewish rituals as a means of attaining salvation. While the conflict endures, Matthew, once again, informs us of Jesus¬°¬Į mission outside the Jewish confines. In spite of the narrow parochialism and clannish mentality pre-Easter Matthew expresses in the statement: ¬°¬įI was sent to the lost sheep of Israel¬°¬Ī (v.24//10,6), the Syro-Phoenician lady¬°¬Įs demand is after all granted. For Matthew the mission of Jesus knows no barriers and demolishes appalling racial and religious inequality of persons as violations of human rights that must be redressed.


In chapter 18, generally known as an ecclesiastical discourse, Matthew recounts a central theme in the Missio Jesu as a mission to the people of God. Church leaders are taught to humble themselves (18,4;23,12). They are enjoined to show love and to live by it. They are asked to render service as opposed to self-seeking claims and to adopt the position of the little persons in the church (18,3;23,11) (Gundry 1994:6). They are reminded of their obligation to foster harmony, to recover those who have gone astray and to forgive the backslider (18,18-35) (Manus 2003:159-161). They are also enjoined to promote Christian commitment to conflict resolution and to preach reconciliation (Manus 2003:136-137). They must be meek, like Jesus, the persecuted teacher of righteousness, be willing to give themselves for others (5,5;11,29;20,20-28;21,5) (Gundry:6). For me, Matthew projects Jesus¬°¬Į mission as a missio ad intra in so far as he roots Jesus¬°¬Į ministry in the setting of the Church and thus portrays him as the one who gives the disciples authority to replicate his mission in word and deed. They are to teach the righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and the Pharisees (Gundry:8). The mission of the church in Matthew comes out bold in the disciples¬°¬Į role as teachers of Christ¬°¬Įs law (13,52;23,34;28,20) and as Christian healers and exorcists (10,1). In this mission discourse, the understanding that ¬°¬įresolution of interpersonal and communal conflicts demand dialogue (negotiations), forgiveness and reconciliation¬°¬Ī has become a conditio sine qua non in order to give peace a chance in the contemporary broken world (Manus 2003:138).


Jesus¬°¬Į Mission in Judea and Jerusalem


In this section, Matthew plots Jesus¬°¬Į journey downwards Jerusalem. His mission comes to grips with the spirituality of the Holy City and its inhabitants perturbed by influence of antinomians, backsliders and the legalism of the Scribes and the Pharisees. The kingdom of God is proclaimed as ¬°¬įa new age¬°¬Ī, a reality that calls for a new attitude. He starts with marriage and celibacy and proclaims both as means of grace in the life of Christians in the reign of God. Matthew places here Jesus¬°¬Į mission to the married. As the basis of every human family, marriage is the basic cell of the Christian community. God had intended the union of man and woman in mutual love to be a permanent one where the off springs benefit from the love of their parents so that their security, guidance, care, home training and interpersonal relationships can be enjoyed. Further in 19,13-15, Jesus goes to show the significance of little children as concrete symbols of the humility that marks entrance into the kingdom of heaven; an expression so unique in the gospel which, as Gundry observes, the evangelist employs to stress the universality of the dominion exercised by Jesus and his Father (Gundry:8). In the church of Matthew, parents are enjoined to encourage their children to take active part in the activities of their faith communities. The coming reign of God is proclaimed as a gift. The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (20,1-15) indicates that the values of the kingdom are not the same as those of the world. In the Parable, the evangelist stresses the significance of the free gift of God¬°¬Įs salvation and the equality of all persons in God¬°¬Įs kingdom. In the warning that the first shall be last and the last be first is embedded Matthew¬°¬Įs notion of the universal nature of the reign of God Jesus proclaims. That Jesus is a missionary par excellence is explicit in the logion that he came ¬°¬įnot to be served but to serve and give his life as ransom for many¬°¬Ī. Matthew¬°¬Įs church adopts this theme to remind all that greatness is achieved through service to others and not in the domination and suppression of others. In the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Matt 21,1-11), Matthew vividly depicts the advent of a messianic royal figure in the person of Jesus who has come to do battle against all the degradation the city of David has witnessed and profanation the national cult has undergone (Manus 1993:181-187). His arrival is seen by many of his contemporaries as a threat. Here, Matthew portrays a Jesus whose mission, even though he was no priest, ¬°¬įcleanses¬°¬Ī the Temple. For me, this is a reconstructive mission, one that has both spiritual and social significance for the well being of the bnaiya Israel, the simple folk of his day (Manus 2003:4,116-118). Above all, Matthew anchors the core of Jesus¬°¬Į teaching ministry in his declaration on love of God and love of neighbor as the greatest of the commandments in Christian Religion (22,34-40).


The Passion and Resurrection. The Crown of the Mission of the Church in Matthew


Matthew closes in a climactic manner what he understands of mission in the Passion Narrative. He places the plot to kill Jesus in the context of the Passover feast and with the chief priests, elders and Caiphas as key figures in the drama. The Matthean Jesus undertakes the supreme mission; namely mission that involves real persecution: arrest, trial, torture and execution on the cross. The cross, the great symbol of suffering and victory in Christianity is portrayed a riddle in Jesus¬°¬Į mission. But the resurrection occurs as the vindication and glorification of the crucified Jesus. Matthew¬°¬Įs narrative is designed to show how the God of life overturns for good the condition of death and annihilation occasioned by human wickedness and injustice. The Just One cannot be left to the power of death. Jesus¬°¬Į tomb is empty. The Christ is indemnified with resurrection. This is the height of mission that Matthew¬°¬Įs church proclaims.


Now, the risen Christ is definitively invested with authority from the Father whom he has so diligently served in his People. He has received kingship over the oikumene ‚Äď the whole world (Manus 1993). He must return to the Father. The handing over of mission has come. Matthew returns the eleven disciples to Galilee where Jesus¬°¬Į mission started. The time to take over charge of the missionary task has arrived. Galilee is again depicted as a locale for mission. It is from here that the disciples are to begin their mission as did their Master. In Matthew, mission is aluta continua. Before his ascension, the Risen Jesus commands his disciples to:

                        Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the

                        name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them

                        to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you

                        always, until the end of the age (Matt 28,19-20).


Matthew brings his gospel to a coordinated close: the promise, ¬°¬įI will be with you always¬°¬Ī in 28,20 harks back to 1,23, Immanuel, God with us. According to a veteran missiologist, J. Verkuyl, mission ¬°¬įhas its source in the triune God Himself¬°¬Ī (Verkuyl:3). For Matthew, Jesus, before returning to the Father, sends the Church to continue the missio Dei which he has begun in their company. As members of the People of God we are, by this mandate, charged with the duty to go out there and proclaim the gospel, to be evangelists with a mission, in other words, to be agents of change in order to promote the reign of God in our time.


In sum, I wish to agree with the NCCB¬°¬Įs Statement that Matthew minces no word in telling us that ¬°¬įJesus was a missionary and as the word of God, he is the light of all nations. As the word made flesh, he brought God¬°¬Įs own life in our midst. Before returning to the Father, he sent the church to continue the mission given him by the Father and empowered her by the spirit¬°¬Ī (p.50).

According to Gundry, the command to make disciples of all nations has resulted in the Church being large and mixed. However true this may be, in Matthew, the church is a brotherhood (5,21-26,47;18,15-17,35;23,8;25,40;28,10). As the New Testament church had a duty to carry its mission to the little ones, the poor and the persecuted outcasts, the itinerant preachers fleeing persecution, the youth, the blind and the crippled indeed a mixed bag, there is no denial in our time that Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus¬°¬Į great commission to the first disciples is now addressed to the Church which exists in the contemporary world (NCCB:1986). Robert H. Gundry so well articulates the pertinence of the mission of the Church in Matthew in these words:

                        Whenever the church has grown large and mixed, whenever the church

                        is polarized between the extremes of latitudinarianism and sectarianism,

                        whenever the church feels drawn to accommodation with forces that

                        oppose the gospel, whenever the church loses its vision of worldwide

                        Evangelism, whenever the church lapses into smug religiosity with its

                        attendant vices of ostentation, hypocrisy, and haughty disdain for its

underprivileged and correspondingly zealous members ‚Äď then the Gospel

of Matthew speaks with power and pertinence (Gndry:10)


Critically evaluating the data scooped up from this study, what emerges is quite fascinating for the understanding of the history of the development of mission themes transmitted in the Gospel. And given the fact that the Gospel of Matthew is a major book in the Synoptic tradition, it is germane to acknowledge the theorizations that have led to the widely accepted hypothesis that Mark, the Q-Source and another special material (M) lie at the origin of the Gospel (Streeter 1924:313). And in the light of the fact that the canonical Matthew has come down to us through stages of redaction, I wish to agree with many synoptic scholars that there could be three or more levels of the development of the traditions of Jesus in Matthew (Benoit-Boismard:1972; Boismard 1980). If everybody agrees with me, the data exposed in my analysis impel us to recognize three possible redactional levels of the development of the mission of the church in the gospel. The redactional work of Matthew has long been upheld and is even recently defended (Stanton 1992:23-53).


Firstly, I find notable ideas on mission in the setting in life of Jesus. This is comprised of Jesus¬°¬Į Galilean ministry and his preaching of the dawn of the kingdom, the role of John the Baptist and his disciples and their work, Jesus¬°¬Į healing miracles, exorcisms and some of the parables on the nature of the kingdom. At this level, mission of Jesus is a mission of resistance and confrontation with the religious leaders of his time, their cronies, and the agents of imperialism. At this stage, mission is focused on the ¬°¬įlost sheep of Israel¬°¬Ī. The second is the engagement in active mission in the setting of the Matthean church, perhaps in Antioch during which time the traditions of Jesus had become treasured and preached as church patrimony. This is the setting in which the post-Easter Christians of the Matthean community accepted the challenges of mission ad intra and in spite of persecution, stood up against all antagonistic opposition in the way of realizing the dawn of the eschatological reign of God preached by Jesus. Here, among others, mission is focused on discipline in the community, catechesis, leadership education, correction of backsliders and the role of the church as peace-broker in conflict situations, their resolutions and reconciliation.


At the third level, there comes the idea of mission that is so creatively developed by the evangelist in an a - b- a1 narrative structure. For the evangelist here, mission is a journey, a travel. The opening scenario about the journey of the magi, oriental missionaries to the House of Herod and their own nations re-echoes as Matthew goes further to tell us that Jesus and his parents travel to Egypt in the African soil. For me, the journey/travel motif is craftily utilized to frame the mission ad intra and ad extra to culminate into missio ad Gentes. This travel motif is fully utilized in the last portion of the evangelist¬°¬Įs treatise.


The initial Galilean mission of Jesus is rehabilitated. Galilee takes on a fresh significance in mission. It becomes the place of sending out the disciples ¬°¬įto go¬°¬Ī and to teach all nations with authority. The key to understanding mission in the gospel is Jesus¬°¬Į commission to his disciples to travel to the whole world to make disciples (Smith 1993:589-603). This is told to accord with the universalization of mission already indicated in (M) but this time it becomes ¬°¬įa universal imperative of¬°¬¶ disavowing borders ¬°¬¶¬°¬Ī to teach all nations, observes Musa Dube, a Botswana feminist and post-colonial critic of the Bible (Dube 1998:230). As Dube auspiciously asserts, here, ¬°¬įMatthew also espouses a Jesus who, in the way of other kings and emperors, sends forth his servants to establish an empire and to teach the subjugated to obey everything he has commanded (Matt 28,18-20). According to the spirit of v.19, the mission of the church in Matthew is to make disciples; persons who are called to follow Jesus and who have encountered God¬°¬Įs reign in Jesus¬°¬Į preaching and actions and are willing to witness God¬°¬Įs presence in their lives (Carter: 552). Now, granted that this picture points us up to what seemed to have happened, what lessons may we learn from the mission of the church in Matthew¬°¬Įs Gospel?

Lessons for Our Time

While Matthew¬°¬Įs style of mission will not absolutely be considered normative for mission today, there is however abiding lessons we can learn from his patterns that can help us fine-tune the pursuit and significance of mission of the Church in the contemporary world (van Engen et alii. 1997:27):

While Jesus¬°¬Į public mission started from Galilee, he still found it necessary to first evangelize the region. Galilee therefore stands as an example to us that the church of Matthew was both mission-sending and mission-receiving, a theology that has to become acknowledged as very significant for contemporary mission strategies of of the Church today.


In his Sermon on the Mount and in such parables as those on watchfulness and Prayer, the evangelist draws our attention to the importance of self-examination of motives and interior dialogue with the self in the life of persons who feel themselves called to become evangelist and followers of Christ, the pioneer missionary. Mission calls for self-immolation.




Jesus¬°¬Į injunction to the disciples to go first to the lost sheep of Israel (10,6) though parochial and nationalistic, underlines the fact that, even in mission, charity begins at home. To flee one¬°¬Įs country to go and teach other nations must nowadays be re-thought; especially now that Western missionaries are getting aged and many are dying away.


Jesus¬°¬Į commission in Matt 28,19-20 enjoins us, among other things, to recognize and affirm the importance of dialogue ad extra such as with major religious and spiritual traditions of the world as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and African Traditional Religion. To ¬°¬įgo and teach all nations¬°¬Ī does not mean the use of force, indoctrination and religious intolerance. But unlike Matthew¬°¬Įs church, there is need for openness in the Church¬°¬Įs mission and this must involve the extension of a hand of reconciliation and dialogue to people of other faiths so as to find a common ground for conflict resolution in the world (Glasser 1984:726).


Mission must equip contemporary Christians with strategies to cope with the

enormous challenges posed by the need for ecumenism on a trilateral level involving Jews, Christians and Muslims in our time. Peace without peace among the religions is unthinkable.


In contemporary mission, ¬°¬įnew and pressing challenges¬°¬Ī have been identified (Door: 11-12). Encountering these can often become formidable if mission is not re-defined appropriately. Mission should therefore take cognizance of:


the need for inculturation, that is, the process of relating the gospel message to

the rich variety of the cultures of the peoples of the world. In Africa, this still has to be recognized as a crucial task of mission and evangelization, in other words, there mission cannot succeed without inculturation.


the need to proclaim reconciliation. Conflict resolution and reconciliation is top

in Matthew¬°¬Įs church mission. Matt 18, 15-22 informs us how the evangelist

involved the elders of his community in the management of conflict resolution,

reconciliation and forgiveness. Today, the world is shattered by great and

horrendous happenings: September 11 (9/11), acquisition and misuse of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), ethnic cleansing, Governments of mass pauperization of their citizens and the insoluble crises still arising from the unfinished job of institutional racism in Africa.


the need for mission to engage in poverty reduction programs. Mission must

address itself to a holistic option for the poor. The church can derive a lot from the Matthean community¬°¬Įs constant recognition of the poor as heirs to the kingdom. The teaching on the parable of the lost sheep according to Matt 18,12-14 that the poor and the confused should not be lost should be of great concern in contemporary mission.


the need for pastoral handling of the immense moral challenges of the rapidly

globalized world of today; especially in the areas of politics and bad governance,

economics and social justice. Here, the nexus between religion, ecology and the

environment must be seen as so thin; especially the manner in which oil

technocrats from the West are depleting and degrading the earth in different

regions of the Two Thirds world and particularly in Africa. The case of the

exploration and mining of Colton in Congo (DRC) for its high-tech value in

Mobile Phone productions are well known.


the need for mission to address fearlessly, like Jesus did to the oppressors of his

day, the proliferates of arms and their trade, to producers of weapons of mass destruction. Contemporary mission must address the good news to those who sponsor persons and institutions that support and abet urban, national and international terrorisms.


There is need, given the reconstructive Christology in which Matthew presents

Jesus¬°¬Į mission, for mission to target, in our time, ¬°¬įunreached peoples¬°¬Ī in their struggles against violations of human rights, their bid in the transformation of human societies and the war against social injustice.


            Mission must reach all and sundry: the rich, the privileged and the downtrodden.

The rich invited Matthew¬°¬Įs Jesus to banquets. He reached out to those who had maintained the worst reputation: the tax collectors, and excise agents, groups who collaborated with the foreign occupying power. He was not an ascetic as such and was free to join in parties and festivals that made him receive the mockery of the pious (Matt 11,19).


Even though Matthew¬°¬Įs Jesus hands on the commission to carry the gospel far

and wide; still ad intra, mission cannot afford to neglect addressing anxieties of the moment such as the decline in churchgoing in Western societies. The situation in Britain and the rest of Western Christendom is alarmingly deplorable. Serious effort must be made to mission-ize the aged groups in the society and bring them back to the fold.


Mission must explore ways and means of improving on the relationships between

the older people and the church. Mission must outline strategies for the Church¬°¬Įs

re-invigorated attitude towards older people in the twenty first century. Matthew¬°¬Įs injunction in 18,18 behests the Church to spend more energy to seek out, attract and nurture older members to live and die well in the Church.


                        Never before has the Church been challenged to become one global family that

ought to allow her many cultural and ethnic members to contribute their own gifts to enrich the world Church. Former patterns of domination need to be removed. Fresh insights into mission in the technological age and into the ways in which the Western missionary movement had often accomplished things, both for good and for ill, have to be reviewed.


Works Consulted


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