One of the hardest things about writing a commentary is trying to figure out what you should do: What should be covered? How should it be covered? How do you deal with the secondary literature? After reflecting on this conundrum Hauerwas writes, “. . . finally I realized I simply had to write what I thought should be said in and for our time. Accordingly I have tried not to write about Matthew. I have tried to write with Matthew, assuming the gospel was written for us” (18).
Those who read commentaries regularly as part of their sermon preparation should be warned: Though there are countless expository gems in this volume, it does not move verse by verse through the text of Matthew. It may well be difficult to use this commentary to pad out one’s homily. Indeed, Hauerwas hopes that readers will treat his commentary more like a novel. Although clearly not a novel, the best way to read this work is to begin at the beginning and read sequentially, allowing Hauerwas’ telling of the story that Matthew tells to unfold much the way the plot of a novel unfolds. Of course, this does not and should not hold in every instance. For example, Hauerwas quite rightly brings the end of the story, the resurrection, to bear on his treatment of Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4. “The resurrection is not, therefore, an event that renders Jesus’ faithfulness unnecessary; rather it is a confirmation of his obedience to the Father’s love manifest in his refusal to accept the devil’s offer of power” (54).
Those familiar with Hauerwas’ work will find him engaging some familiar conversation partners: Augustine, Aquinas, Barth, Bonhoeffer and Yoder. Further, as one might expect when Hauerwas meets St. Matthew, peaceableness, the importance of the Church as a community of character and witness and the significance of discipleship are all themes that come to the fore. Always at the heart of these concerns is Jesus, God with us. Indeed, just as Matthew does, Hauerwas will not let us forget that all of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew is inextricably bound up with and depends upon his identity as the Christ, as Emmanuel.
Appropriately, Jesus’ identity as the Christ receives its clearest specification in the crucifixion and resurrection. At the cross we see “the sheer unimaginable differentness – of God . . . God’s power is to be found exemplified in this captive under the sentence of death” (240). Concerning the resurrection and its connection to all Jesus’ identity and teaching, Hauerwas writes, “The resurrection, of course, is not a ‘knockdown sign’ that establishes that Jesus is the Son of God . . . The truth that is Jesus is a truth that requires discipleship, for it is only by being transformed by what he has taught and by what he has done that we can come to know the way the world is” (247).
The greatest surprise for those familiar with Hauerwas’ work is how deeply and patiently he has engaged Matthew’s gospel. Yes, there are verses that do not receive attention. Nevertheless, for 250 pages the reader cannot get away from Matthew. As promised, this is Matthew in and for our time. The great danger in any type of commentary is that the author’s voice, or the voices of accumulated scholars, drowns out the voice of the text in question. This does not happen here. In fact, rather than getting Hauerwas’ Matthew, this volume gives us Matthew’s Hauerwas. In offering this to us, Hauerwas provides an extensive and compelling example of how the voice of the gospel can shape, and even become, our own voice.Stephen Fowl is professor of theology at Loyola College in Maryland.