Preaching St Matthew – the Human Face of God

At 9.30am on Saturday 1 February, eighty or so keen Readers and Methodist Local Preachers gathered at Durham High School for Girls for a day of study on the Gospel for the Year – St Matthew. It was a chilly, but bright clear and fresh morning, somehow in keeping with the energy and vitality present from the start of the day. Equally encouraging was the sight of so many coming from both Dioceses and from the Methodist Church, wanting to support each other in ministry and to learn together.

The day was led by me, David Bryan, Director of Studies for Lindisfarne RTP, and Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow. Michael Beck, Tutor for Readers for LRTP, led the opening and closing prayers and helped facilitate the discussion groups.

I introduced St Matthew by highlighting how Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, had linked the four living creatures of Revelation 4.6-8 with the fourfold gospel. Irenaeus was keen to say that there were four gospels because the gospel had all of humankind in view. I then invited participants to discuss Irenaeus’ insistence that ‘Matthew is the Gospel of Christ’s humanity’ and asked, ‘To what extent does Matthew reveal the human face of God?’

Bishop Mark introduced the famous black and white film of 1964 by the Marxist Pier Paolo Pasolini. Utilizing key scenes from the movie, he illustrated how Pasolini presented an uncompromising portrait of Matthew’s Jesus, a disturber of the peace, a confronter especially of the religious authorities. Bishop Mark provocatively asked, ‘What does this mean for us who now preach in our Churches?’

In the final session I invited the participants to consider how Matthew paints a picture of Jesus as a true king who starkly contrasted with the monarchs of his day – Herod and Caesar. However I also drew attention to the less palatable picture in Matthew of God as a king at the final judgment. Do we who now preach Matthew need to develop the skill of being able to read both ‘with’ and also ‘against the grain’ of the gospel?

David Bryan

Would those who came like to do this again? The answer was an emphatic, ‘Yes!’ The following are just a few of the responses we received following the event:

Thank you for a very inspiring workshop. The Pasolini film with its disturbing and lively pictures really drew one into the story. There was a very good mix of input with time for our own reflections. Michael’s last words about ‘Who do you think I am?’ really brought the message home, that this is not about any old Bible quotations, but about ourselves and our faith. 

I very much enjoyed today’s event. The discussion questions were challenging and I feel I have come away with a great deal of food for thought.

David delivered his presentation in such an enthusiastic and readily understood way – he certainly got me thinking differently. The resources supplied were as always really good and very useful.

We will be offering a similar day in the autumn, looking at St Mark, the gospel for next year. The date will be advertised closer to the time.

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