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Book Review: Gospel of Matthew

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.”


Silence – Continued

This post is from an excerpt of my new book project with InterVarsity Press… tentatively titled Disciplines of Justice.

The Discipline and Gift of Silence

In the practice of silence, prayer and meditation are often incorporated. Silence, like meditation, is what the Quakers call “centering.” Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline: “It is a time to become still, to enter into the recreating silence, to allow the fragmentation of our minds to become centered.” This allows the opportunity for God to “commune with you.”[i] Silence allows one to be still, listening for the words of God to our hearts, souls, and mind. Foster writes: “Without silence there is no solitude;” inner solitude and inner silence are inseparable.[ii]

Silence greets different people in unique ways. Sometimes, the gift of silence is the lack of mental clutter that keeps us frazzled, distracted, and worrying about burdens of daily life. Other times, silence is filled with deep truth of words that God desires to speak to our hearts. Adele Calhoun writes of silence in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: “The discipline of silence invites us to leave behind the competing demands of our outer world for time alone with Jesus. Silence offers a way of paying attention to the Spirit of God and what he brings to the surface of our souls.” [iii] Calhoun reminds us, “Silence is a time to rest in God.” [iv]

 Over the years, I have participated and led many retreats of silence. I am regularly overwhelmed by how different each retreat is experienced by the men and women who participate. When I begin a retreat, I am able to say with confidence: “I do not know how the Lord will speak to us in the days ahead, but I know that He will be with us in our silence.” I have not once been disappointed. Each and every time, the Lord has revealed Himself. Sometimes participants in the silence experience a release of grief and sorrow. Other times a young man or woman will come face to face with an encounter of the truth of God’s love and forgiveness. Sometimes the silence serves to comfort. Other times, the silence provides the space for personal conviction. Silence can be scary, because one often doesn’t know what will be revealed when the soul is quiet and still. However, the comfort of knowing God is with us in the silence provides courage to enter in.

From Silence to Service  

 As one enters into silence, room is created for God to do the work of transforming our souls. The spiritual discipline of silence changes us, inside and out. Richard Foster calls attention to this “transforming power of silence.”[v] As a person becomes more connected to themselves and to God, clarity of purpose emerges out of the silence. Christians not only experience the truth of God’s love for each of us as individuals and for all of humanity, but we are also reminded of the commandments in Scripture to love our neighbor (Matt 22:37). The spiritual discipline of silence directly motivates and compels people toward other-oriented service. The Quakers practice of silence provides further evidence of the strong correlation between the integration of silence and service. Foster acknowledges that silence is a direct pathway to service.[vi] He writes about the outcome of the Quaker practice of silence: “the result has been a vital social impact far in excess of their numbers.”[vii]

I go on to tell the story of Mother Teresa and the way the spiritual discipline of silence empowered and equipped her ministry to respond to the needs of people suffering and hurting in her community in Calcutta.

[i] Foster, 30.

[ii] Foster, 98.

[iii] Calhoun, 108.

[iv] Calhoun, 109.

[v] Foster, 98.

[vi] Foster, 139.

[vii] Foster, 22.

Advent Retreat of Silence 2011

I can’t really remember the year of my first Advent Retreat of silence. It was many years ago… Perhaps 2002? I was invited by a group called “Hungry Souls” and was led by Sibyl Towner and Karen Mains. I remember being nervous about the silence. Would I get bored? I imagined being in a group of a few dozen women and all the sudden needing to “shout out loud” to break the quiet. I had many questions. As much as I was nervous, when I arrived at the retreat center… everything was right in place. Karen and Sibyl gently guided us into the silence. We were given instructions along the way… so even in the quiet… no one was ever alone.

Since that first retreat, I have tried to keep the practice of two overnight retreats of silence every year – one around Easter during Lent and the other during Advent as Christmas approaches. I try to have a day of silence a month as a part of my own spiritual rhythm. Some months I am more successful than others!

This year… I am particularly thankful to enter into quiet that awaits. I am at a retreat center – Pendle Hill – somewhere in Pennsylvania. The year has been a busy one. The holidays are busy too. As I begin to settle my heart… I enter with anticipation into the silence. My prayer – for myself and others – is that we might all have some quiet to reflect upon the true purpose of the Advent Season. I am reminded of what it must have been like for the early church… awaiting the coming of the Messiah. We, too, must wait. We wait upon the Lord to hear the cries of our hearts. We wait… We wait also for Him to return again… that in His coming, the world might again be made right.

 These are the Scriptures upon which I will meditate as I enter into this year’s retreat into silence:


Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly (Psalm 5:3)

We wait in hope for the Lord, he is our help and our shield (Psalm 33:20)

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

And there were shepherds living out in fields nearby, keeping watch over their flock by  night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:8-11)