On Reading the Gospel of Matthew.
I set myself the task of reading the gospel of Matthew as if I had never read it before.
This failed completely: I know so much about the gospel that the best I can hope for is a clear-eyed look at my own complete emmersion in Christian culture and society. The operative work here is "clear-eyed"; it yielded some fine stuff.
Let me say first up that the same uncanny mix of humor, myth, legend, epic, folk story, teaching, poem, and inspired visionary text that one finds in Genesis, one also encounters immediately in the first gospel - the book of Matthew. The form is the same, but everything is different.
Chapter One. The opening echoes the kingly lists of Chronicles, detailing distinguished lineage but this time in the utterly revolutionary context of the prophet Jesus. But already we are on strange land, because Jesus is a kingly prophet. It is as if Isaiah and Solomon were born in the one man. Nothing quite like it existed before. And then comes the divine omens.
Chapter Two. The gorgeous myth of the birth of Jesus is so mediaeval in its telling that one almost forgets it is not a stained glass window. How are we supposed to take this tall tale? The middle ages has colonized our imagining of the gospel. We cannot see beyond the images of those centuries to the true tale.
One thing we can say: this is not the normal style to be reading a miraculous birth-of-a-son-god type of tale; not at all; the tone around it is historical, factual, realistic even. The interpolation of the ooh and ahh of the miracle birth is surely not calculated to blemish the historical record; rather, the simplest explanation is that it is to stun the unquestioning pre-rational audience into acquiescence.
Augustine tacitly acknowledges this difficulty with the gospels in his autobiography when he confesses that the gospels must be read in a very simple and uncomplicated spirit. I agree. They are not addressed to a reasonable, scientifically educated, and literate middleclass. They belong to everyone.
But because of their universal quality we find ourselves in the deep time of human consciousness, looking through the pristine simplicity of Matthew's eyes at the unaccountable astonishment that was Jesus. Is it any wonder Matthew invented fancies to compel his bovine audience to some faint sense of the incredible nature of these events? It is no wonder that the out-wondering wonder of Jesus should attract the ornaments of myth?
Chapters Three and Four. The tale of John the Baptist and the temptation in the wilderness suddenly moves into fact from fancy. John's tale is so remarkable that it must be true, and yet it validates the prophetic angle of Jesus' ministry so perfectly that it simply piles up more compelling evidence of the man.
The three temptations of Christ clearly delineates, in a visual format, the actual advanced spiritual work that have been researched, described and corroborated in modern times by Doctor David R. Hawkins. This is simply how it is; one can question the visual images, but not the content which is pristine to the universal nature of advanced inner spiritual work.
So the opening 4 chapters work to present Jesus as an authority. Chapter one presents his kingly status. Two presents him as a prophet. Three presents his inner qualifications, for those in the know, as an spiritual entity of surpassing purity, having refused the temptations of power and personal gain. The masses are suitably stunned by the first two yarns, and the spiritual students ought to be suitably sobered by the third. Then come the teachings.
And what teachings they are!
Hawkins calibrates the level of consciousness of humanity at Jesus' time as 100. I would argue that Jesus, being a teacher of all humanity, addressed humanity at exactly the level we were at. In other words, imagine Jesus speaking directly and lovingly to a very very scared entity called "humanity". Imagine Jesus speaking to a frightened being, a being lost in terror and darkness of fright and horror, a being run like a robot on its own wishes to avoid further pain. That is the level of consciousness Jesus addresses in his first teaching. And what he says corroborates this presumption: he speaks of the poor, of the meek, of the grieving - all levels of consciousness below 100. On the Hawkins scale, he is speaking about the apathetic and the grief-stricken - those who have been shattered by life and cannot have any illusions about the human hell of that age. Jesus is speaking about those who have broken down denial about the frightening reality of human nature in his age. He is speaking TO the fearful, reminding them of their brothers and sisters who are lost IN grief and apathy. His words, so strange at first hearing, are simply an outpouring of compassion and well-wishing for those who have seen the terrible truth about human nature being hopelessly stuck.
Jesus reminds his listeners of those less fortunate than themselves, who also have less illusions about reality. He blesses people who are free of illusion, but also bereft of hope. Then he turns to integrity. And what does he say?
He blesses those who desire for integrity. Now desire is the level immediately above fear. Jesus is consciously contextualizing human consciousness within the levels below and above it. The entire field of potential for human consciousness receives his attention. Next he blesses those who are merciful, in other words those who give up anger, the level of consciousness above desire; next he blesses the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. What do all these have in common? They are all social expressions of integrity - making peace, being persecuted. Jesus is talking about being at the level of pride, the level of looking good rather than being good, the level of hypocrisy.
In one dazzling passage, Jesus has recontextualized human consciousness in a totally new light. The grieving and apathetic have seen the truth. Those stuck in desire are really hungry and thirtsy for truth. Those stuck in anger are really seeking mercy. Those stuck in pride and hypocrisy are really only after a pure heart, peacemaking and feeling justified in their victimhood. Notice how Jesus does not condemn these negative energy fields - he simply sees them as love, love in action, love in intention, love in expression. He sees love in human consciousness, and thus it is.
Versus 11 to 16 describe the world of level of consciousness 200, which Jesus calls heaven. It is hard to imagine that human consciousness today, here and now, is at the remarkable level of consciousness overall of 206. That means that we the living of the modern world are in a world which to the humans of Jesus time would seem like heaven. One can hardly underestimate the shocking difference between human nature in Jesus' time and human nature in our time. It is like night and day.
Versus 17 to 37 seems to me like sound traditional morality. Was it anything new in Jesus time. No; Jesus say it is the law of the prophets. Is it just me, or has Jesus just finished with the carrot and now is applying the stick? Certainly he shows sound motivational psychology with his warnings. But let's take a close look at the rhetorical intention.
The opening verses of the sermon from the start to 16 recontextualize human consciousness as love in the process of unfoldment. Then the moralistic verses from 17 to 37 warn about being very moral using fear as a motivating tool. The level of consciousness of the listeners is Fear, level 100 on the map of consciousness. So first Jesus recontextualizes all the levels of consciousness AROUND fear, and second Jesus leans quite heavily on the fear stick and makes a big impact, no doubt, on his fearful audience. He first loosens up the field around fear, then he uses fear to stimulate moral behavior. Or so it seems. But look at what he does next:
"Love your enemies". "Turn the other cheek". This is the value of unconditional love. Where on earth does this come from? Suddenly we have moved from instilling fear of ethical failure to instilling a visionary economic program, without any warning. I think a few of the links in Jesus chain of thought are missing at this point personally. Where is the link between conventional moral scrupulosity motivated by the animal fear of hell, and the humanistic ethos of universal brotherhood, other than in Matthew's torrid ethical imagination?
Chapter Six begins with Jesus teaching his frightened cattle-humans the principle of anonymity. Don't do good acts to be seen in public, he says. Small words for clear images of real things - no further evidence that Jesus is talking to men of little brain is needed than this remarkably lucid explanation of the power of personal anonymity. If no human notices me doing a good act, Jesus explains, then God sees it. A toddler could comprehend this.
The principle of anonymous prayer brings up the basic Christian teachings on prayer: don't try to program God to give you stuff, just ask for what you need today, make sure you stay straight with your fellow humans, and remember to ask God to lead you into a positive energy field because you can't find your way there on your own. Which is all simply factual if you are open to the research on prayer by Doctor Hawkins.
6:14 and 6:15 describe the right relationship between me, God and others. If I'm good with others, then God will be good with me. Real simple. But if I'm not good with others, then God won't be good with me. Karma in one easy lesson!
6:19 to 6:23 I don't understand. Are they esoteric references to light bodies? What are "treasures in heaven" precisely? I am going to assume, from the discussion preceding it directly, that Jesus is talking about karma still. Treasures in heaven means karmic merit. The light of the eye is referring to consciousness itself: literally if I do ill, my consciousness becomes dark and I cannot understand spiritual matters automatically, and if I do good my consciousness is lit up, again literally. I don't think they are esoteric references: I think Jesus is being dead literal about spiritual and karmic fundamentals.
6:24 to the end of chapter six I have often read as anti- or non-materialistic references by Jesus, and in the light of Jesus' status as a wandering mendicant faith healer, this is easy to assume. But I think by putting these references in the context of his audience a different picture becomes clear.
Jesus' audience is at the level of fear. With the addition of the energy field of Jesus himself, as well as Jesus' recontextualizations and inspiration and teachings, they will quickly ascend to the higher energy field above fear of desire. And in that precise instant the downside of desire, greed and lust for gain, will take hold. So Jesus is, as it were, heading them off at the pass. He is trying his best to block off any excuse or evasion of integrity in his audience.
His audience is to avoid showing off (thus dismantling Pride, 175); they are to forgive everyone (thus processing out Anger, 150), and they are to avoid greed (thus minimizing the downside of Desire at 125). His audience are at 100. If they take on board everything he has just said and apply it, they cannot but end up over 200, the crucial line of integrity. Another way of putting this is that if someone in fear takes to heart these few lines, he or she can move into courage by simply applying them to their situation. This is a pretty remarkable claim, an enormous leap by any standards in consciousness from fear to integrity, and Jesus accomplishes it in fewer words than most people take to share dinner with their family.
Chapter Seven consists of various legendary admonishments. Jesus warns people who fail to apply his teachings with the "house built on sand". He warns against occult gyrations with those who cast out demons but don't have integrity so are not recognized by God in Heaven - ie, as integrous. He warns against fake spiritual teachers in a beautiful phrase "wolves in sheep's clothing". Jesus is obviously really trying to make sure his hearer get what he is saying. Integrity, Jesus is saying, integrity integrity integrity. And his audience is responding "Baa-aaa!"
Chapters 8 and 9 are sundry miracles. In these chapters the ooh and ahh factor of the miraculous birth is intermingled with sage titbits from the Master. It functions kind of like an integration of the miraculous and the historical. Then in 10 the real ministry begins. Jesus gives instructions to his disciples. They are extraordinary, bizarre instructions.
Jesus might as well have suggested his disciples go forth wearing fruitbowl hats and dancing traditional Hawaiian dances as suggest what he actually says. Is this guy for real? A life of poverty, dirty clothes, faith healing and testimony is in store for the 12. No wonder the harvest was great but the laborers few: Jesus was a tough boss!
I also find it remarkable that none of the disciples puts up his hands and asks for some exemption from the rules. Either we are to suppose Matthew was portraying Jesus as far more hard-arse than he actually was, OR we must assume that Jesus selected the 12 out of a prior organisation that they were already part of. Given the political implications of John's ministry and Jesus' birth, the possibility one considers is that the 12 arose out of the political organization of which Jesus was the focus. But Jesus tells the 12 to heal and teach, not organize sit-ins and sign petitions. So what Jesus is explicitly doing with this ministry is, it would seem, taking people from a political organization around him and putting them into a spiritual order. Clearly the disciples are, well, disciplined. Were they from a paramilitary political order? I am not thinking of the Essenes here; I am willing to assume perhaps that Jesus' influences arose from the Essene tradition, but one must also concede that the disciples did not arise out of nothing. They didn't pop into existence as a miracle. Jesus recruited them from some prior organization, probably political in nature.
I resist attempts to politicize Jesus' message, personally. I think he arose from a political context into the universal ethical and spiritual contexts of his teaching and healing ministry. But the incredible fortitude of the disciples revealed in chapter ten indicates they likely had a military origin of some kind.
Chapter 11 shows Matthew's poor logical organization. It consists of Jesus giving a kind stream of consciousness impression of how things are all going. It's sort of like Jesus as us are watching the disciples go out doing their think and ruminating about how things are progressing. But it's loose and baggy and mercifully a short chapter. It has various legendary sayings in it, of course, that any civilized person would commit to memory and use in their right place.
Then suddenly in chapter 12 the disciples are back, or these are different disciples maybe. And Jesus is bickering about the Law with some conservatives. The conservatives, no doubt somewhat arch about faith healing and the taint of revolutionary politics inevitably attached to some of Jesus' more vociferous disciples, beat up the issue of the Sabbath. But this is the old left and right, conservative and liberal opposition all over again - this is not about Jesus but about the culture of the time.
Chapter 13 begins the parables. 14 is miracles with food. 15 and 16 are Jesus bickering with the conservatives again, ending with a foreshadowing of his death at their hands.
Chapter 17 is an exact match for chapter 3, which describes in concrete images some advanced spiritual work done with James, John and Peter. The interesting thing here is how the four men 'see' Moses and Elijah. I take this to mean the statement that at the highest levels of consciousness one experiences what the sages who passed through that condition also experienced, experiencing it as oneself at the same time as the individual. So I think Peter, James and John experience what Moses experienced, and become that which Moses had become also. Which would be a condition on the map of consciousness in the mid 700s. I think chapter 17 describes the enlightenment experience of James, John and Peter.
Chapter 18 addresses spiritual egotism and the problem of specialness - both common issues for spiritual students. How does one deal with ego and pride at spiritual attainment? And, how does one deal with the glamour of being special?
Chapter 19 would be more kvetching with the conservatives only, were it now for the final lines of this chapter making some remarkable statements. Jesus says, in Matthew 19:26-30, that man needs a savior to be saved, and cannot be saved on his own efforts, but he adds a statement which seems to imply in a veiled way that the conservative factions addicted to legalism will be judged by the spiritually advanced disciples. This is very interesting indeed. It is as if Jesus' twelve disciplines are set up as an alternative for the hopelessly-mired-in-negativity twelve tribes of Israel. Individuals replace tribes, Jesus seems to be suggesting here. All very interesting ideas, and very relevant for the Roman world and for our world today.
20, 21, 22, 23 represent a melange of 3 elements: parables, miracles, and Jesus putting up patiently with the conservatives' bitching. But in 23 Jesus really loses his cool and starts cussing up a storm against his enemies. They have finally and officially pissed off the son of God, and it's not pretty.
24 and 25 are fascinating chapters for us precisely because they describe the modern world. We live in a world where integrity matters. We live, then, in a world where the kingdom of heaven, integrity, is here and now; a world where one is taken up into integrity while another remains, unable to see or even know the different dimension the integrous occupy.
The traditional interpolation of doomsday occult visions from the book of Relevations is unfortunate. According to consciousness research, the end of the world scenario in that book is simply flat out false. So what Jesus must be talking about in Matthew 24 and 25 is not some imaginary apocalypse, but rather a real world emergence of integrity as a practical way of being in the world for most people. In other words, Jesus is talking about ordinary life in the West every day. Another day in paradise.
26 to 28 tell the tale, in choice few words, of Jesus' arrest and death at the hands of the conservatives. We all know the ending; what is remarkable for me is how brief the story is in Matthew.
Why did Matthew write this way? We have perhaps a quarter of a book of Jesus speaking, as it were, straight into Matthew's microphone. We get the raw feed on Jesus' instructions to his disciplines, Jesus' rant against the conservatives, and even a little chapter where Jesus is sort of rambling to himself somewhat loosely while his disciples are off discipling. The rest of the book, shorn of its mythic opening and tragic ending, is endless bickering and miracles of healing and feeding. Jesus mostly seems to have brought health and food and moral guidance in this book.
The most remarkable part of the book of Matthew is the sermon on the mount. Once it is put into the context of the listeners to whom Jesus is addressing his comments, it brilliantly illuminates Jesus' model for teaching and inspiring others. Jesus makes himself accessible as a savior through this sermon.
I suppose the other value in the book of Matthew is for convincing the credulous to follow Jesus. There are no appeals to reason to be found here, and many appeals indeed for the sheep to follow the Shepherd.
So, that's my clear-eyed take on the book of Matthew. It has taken me two hours to re-read it and keep running notes on it as I go, and I am glad I did. It is a wonderful book. I recommend it to everyone. Get a copy and underline all the cool statements in it and commit them to memory. Try out Jesus' views on prayer. Read the sermon and pursuade yourself that only integrity is worth living for, even if you already 'know' the sermon' and its purport. It's a fine piece of work, worth many readings. I certainly enjoyed the chance to share it with you.