IVP Resonate Commentary Series
Gospel of Matthew: God with Us
Written by: Matt Woodley
Review by: Reverend Mae Elise Cannon
Previously, I have expressed by excitement about the InterVarsity Press Resonate Commentary Series edited by Paul Louis Metzger. I wrote a review of the Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town for the Covenant Companion and lauded the creative integration of sound theological explanations with culturally relevant examples of how the Gospel might be better brought to light for the struggling generations of the 21st century. In the series introduction, Metzger acknowledges the significant distinction of the commentary’s dual purpose to both highlight the biblical sense (what does the book of the Bible mean?) and cultural significance (what does it say to us in this particular setting?) of the Scriptures. I have read many different commentaries and in comparison, the Resonate series thus far has proven to be full of legitimate scholarship with refreshing relevance to daily living. The commentaries, as reflected in both The Gospel of John and The Gospel of Matthew seek to provoke people out of spiritual complacency by providing a stimulating alternative that bear witness to the work of God and his people through the written word, compelling stories, and relevance to the broader cultural context.
The second book in the series is Matt Woodley’s Gospel of Matthew: God with Us. I was moved from the very first pages as I read about Woodley’s encounters and personal insights gained from working in a home for the developmentally disabled. Through Woodley’s personal narrative and stories of others, the reader is reminded of the truth which resonates throughout the Gospel of Matthew, God is with us: “In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus shows up and offers us God’s personal presence.” (20). From Tolkien’s The Hobbit to Charriere’s Papillon, Woodley weaves throughout his interpretation of the Gospel examples of other compelling stories and of tastes of cultural relevance. Woodley reminds us that for millennium people have searched and looked for God, seeking permission to ask questions along the way about how the truth about him might be found. Woodley notes that Jesus’ ministry was not begun with a loud bang and the devastation of all of his enemies; rather, his ministry began with three small steps: the calling of ordinary people to follow him; the healing of the sick; and the community he gathered around himself (54). The transformational power of the coming kingdom of God was expressed in these simple, yet profound, actions of Jesus’ life and example.
Woodley outlines truths revealed in the Gospel of Matthew about the kingdom of heaven as both radically communal and global, as it would one day reign over all things (57). He provides rich explanations of well familiar passages including the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, and other accounts throughout the Gospel of Matthew. While reading his interpretations for both scriptural significance and cultural relevance, I loved fluctuating from the thoughts of academic geniuses to children’s books heroes with references from the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard to direct quotes from Dr. Seuss in Horton Hears a Who.
However, I was a bit disappointed with Woodley’s exposition of Matthew 25, particularly the passages that speak about Jesus’ words: “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” I agree that these verses are about the personal presence required in acts of mercy. I also believe they are about so much more. This passage demands of followers of Christ an engagement with the least of these in society, the poor, the outcast, the widow, people who are marginalized and neglected. Woodley’s interpretation seemed shallow in respect to the profound significance of this particular passage. He did mention a trip to Mexico City and the reminder from a friend that the “poor need you and you need them.” However, much more could be said. I was disappointed that Woodley did not engage more on this specific passage.
Nonetheless, I still would still very much recommend this book as a resource. Recently, I had the opportunity to offer this endorsement for Gospel of Matthew: God with Us:
“Throughout the pages of Gospel of Matthew: God with Us, Matt Woodley makes accessible the truth of the incarnation of Christ through his own candid personal narrative and the inspirational stories of others. The reader is continually engaged from the divinely “human” genealogy of Jesus to the promise of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit at book’s end. This commentary provides a refreshing expository of an often familiar Gospel by provoking questions about the impact of God’s coming kingdom in today’s culture and society.”