Conflict—never far from human experience—is an essential framework for approaching the gospels. The gospels originate with Jesus and his life among people living in struggle and hoping for radical change. The conflict was between the way things are and the way things need to be.
People cried out for relief from the powers that ordered their lives. For some that cry was muffled in an inarticulate poverty; for others it voiced itself in hymns and songs of liberation. Jesus’ good news in answer to the people’s longing was to declare God’s reign. In that promise, the poor and the hungry are blessed; change will come. Jesus declared hope and lived it radically in acts of healing and inclusion that crossed traditional boundaries.
Our heritage is a people crying for change. To be faithful to that heritage and to understand it, we need a conflict perspective, not least in solidarity with all who long for change today.
Of the gospels, Matthew has the most to say about conflict; it is a significant sub-theme of the book. Though five decades down the track from Jesus, Matthew’s gospel still reflects a context of struggle and longing. Hopes for a Messiah and fulfillment of prophetic promises run as a formula throughout Matthew’s gospel. Hope is realized in healing and community, but there is more to come. Political conflict frames Matthew’s story: Herod massacres the infants only to miss the King of the Jews, but Pilate makes up for it.