Saturday, December 23, 2017

On Reading Matthew

I've been reading through the Gospel of Matthew in a fairly desultory way (I do want to change that "desultory" part). The idea was to read devotionally, in small chunks, maybe with repeat readings of the same passage before moving on, keeping notes in a journal along the way. The idea was, in short, slow reading. Thoughtful reading. Devoted and worshipful reading. I'd flown over the forest many times, and knew its shape and contours from above, but now I wanted to walk straight through, taking my time, following the paths, keeping alert.

Well, that was the idea. In fact, since then I've been stumbling through the forest, taking long breaks, distracted, missing a lot of the signposts and trail markers, and a lot of the beauty as well. The plan was a good one . . . on paper. It was in the implementation that the problems arose. This reading plan calls for, well, certain commitments from the reader. Not merely hitting marks or keeping to a schedule (like a Bible-in-one-year reading plan), but commitments that reach to the level of character, maturity, the earnest engagement of the heart and the full attention of the mind.

In these matters I have been inconsistent at best. Jonathan Pennington, in his book, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, presents the model of the ideal reader. The ideal reader reads with keen attention. The ideal reader is aware of his own presumptions and biases and tries to set them aside. And the ideal reader of Scripture understands his own need for personal transformation. He reads with that purpose in mind.

Pennington's book is surely the right book for me to be reading just now. So my plan is to continue my devotional reading of the Gospel of Matthew, but I'll be going back to the start. Pennington's outline of the structure of the text is helping me to see how much I've been missing. And his focus on reading the text for the purpose of character formation, which after all was Matthew's intent, is exactly what I need.

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