On Discipleship in Matthew
The aspects of the disciple that appear in Matthew and still signify today are precisely those traits that correlate to the heart of Christian discipleship itself.
The first of these is leadership. This essentially describes the tension that Carter articulates: that the disciples have both “an existence on the social margins” and participation “in the reign of God revealed by God’s actions in Jesus.” The disciple is neither isolated nor conforming but beginning as an agent of God’s present and coming kingdom.
The point of following Jesus is not to draw other disciples in your wake. It is not even enough to simply live on the margins because that is not the purpose. What is the purpose is bringing and proclaiming God’s reign. This was once thought to overturn God’s law but, as Hanger notes, more consideration and careful scholarship leads us to believe that the leadership of the disciple is leadership in the righteousness, mercy, and justice that the law referred to.
That has always been God’s reign. Love is the fulfillment of the law and not its overthrow.
“Disciples are called to a life of greater righteousness and justice” describes the trait corollary to the first: disciples are to be just. Contained within God’s reign is a disclosure of God’s own nature. It disciples must then be reconciling, faithful, honoring, non-violent, loving, praying, integral, and fair servants of God. They will neither conform to nor abandon this world but bless and transform it through their presence, as the examples of salt and yeast would indicate. Disciples will even bless their enemies and will not be intimidated by the powers and terrors of this world.
The righteousness of God’s rule, after all, has been revealed to them. Disciples understand that their leadership, because it comes from following Jesus of Nazareth, is not that of the Gentiles ‘who lord it over’ those beneath them but is instead a life of self-sacrificing service. The purpose is not to seek out positions of authority for oneself, but to exercise the authority of God in whatever place Jesus leads the disciple to. The righteousness of God is first for the disciple; from this all else follows.
This implies the third trait of the disciple: fidelity. Allegiance to God’s will and reign is paramount, not in order to secure one’s own salvation but precisely because of it and in response to it. Matthew contains stern admonitions for those torn between loyalties and those of impure motives. They have no place in the kingdom because they have one foot securely in this world.
When the disciples fail it is either becomes fear overcomes their best instincts toward fidelity or because their thinking is still tainted by the structures and expectations of the world. And those two failures are intimately related. The expectation of the world is that if Jesus dies his kingdom will not endure. The expectation of the world is that securing a place in anyone’s kingdom is seeking out power and authority for oneself.
But fidelity to God indicates quite differently.