What does the Christian life consist of? What does God expect from us?
Here’s Jesus’ answer, according to Matthew’s Gospel: “Wait faithfully. Together. Or else.”
Sure, that isn’t an exact quotation, but it sums up — again, according to Matthew — what Jesus says to his followers when he instructs them about how they should live after he has departed from this earth.
Let me address the “or else” part first. That usually attracts the greatest attention.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus seems a little infatuated with judgment and retribution. At the conclusion of each of the four parables he tells within Matthew 24:45-25:46, the section that comes just before the plot to seize and kill him springs into action, certain characters don’t fare so well. They are cast out to where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” locked out of a banquet by the guy who presumably invited them in the first place, tossed into “outer darkness,” or punished in “eternal fire.” Along with the book of Revelation, Matthew’s Gospel has generated a large share of distress through the centuries.
Are these promises about judgment authentic warnings spoken by an uncomfortably stern Jesus, or are they brutal revenge fantasies put into his mouth by ancient Christian communities that had lost the ability to trust their own members or to put up with differing opinions and practices? We may never know.