Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (Matt 4; Epiphany 3A)

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Matt 4:23). So we hear at the end of the Gospel passage offered by the lectionary for this coming Sunday.

Again, some chapters later, we hear that Jesus leaves his family (10:35–38) to travel from town to town, “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (9:35). As he travels, he has “nowhere to lay his head” (8:20) and no possessions to call his own, in accordance with the instruction he later gives to a rich man, telling him, “if you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (19:21).

The “good news” that Jesus proclaims so insistently as he travels around contains some hard, demanding requirements. In fact, towards the end of this Gospel, Jesus gives a series of clear directions regarding what is required to “be perfect”, to gain “eternal life”, to enter “the kingdom of heaven” (19:16–26). His call is challenging.

At the very start of his public activity in Matthew’s account, Jesus has sounded the central motif of his preaching: “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17, repeating the very same message of John the baptiser, 3:2).

On the significance of the themes in this key verse, see

This coming kingdom, which Jesus has proclaimed from the start of his public preaching (4:17, 23; 5:3, 10; 5:19-20; 6:10, 33; 7:21; 8:11–12; 9:35; 10:7), is the same kingdom that Daniel had foreseen (“the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed”, Dan 2:44). The promise that God had made long ago was that “my covenant of peace shall not be removed” (Isa 54:10). It is this kingdom that many prophets had been speaking about—the time when the ways of God would be faithfully followed by the people chosen by God, as they maintained their commitment to the covenant made with their God.

Those prophets had regularly reminded the people of Israel of the need to act in ways that were consistent with the tsedeqah, the righteous-justice, that the Lord God required of them. Jesus stands in this prophetic tradition; in Matthew’s narrative, he emphasises that it is keeping righteous-justice (5:20; 10:41; 13:17; 21:32) which characterises “the kingdom of God” (6:33). It is this righteous-justice which is a prerequisite to “inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world” (25:34–40).

Acting in accordance with this righteous-justice brings into present reality the prophetic promise about the coming kingdom, when God’s way of righteous-justice will be followed by faithful people (Isa 26:7–9; 40:3–5; Jer 6:16; Mal 3:1; 4:4–6; and the many prophetic oracles concerning the Day of the Lord).

It is only in this Gospel that Jesus is directly equated with the Servant, chosen by God, on whom God’s Spirit rests, the one who will “proclaim righteous-justice to the Gentiles” (Matt 12:18, quoting Isa 42:1) and will not rest until “he brings righteous-justice to victory” (Matt 12:20, quoting Isa 42:3).

This way of righteous-justice is consistent with the message of many prophetic voices (Amos 5:24; Hos 10:12; Isa 5:7, 16; 9:7; 11:4–5; 32:1, 16–17; 42:6; 61:1–4; Jer 9:23–24; 22:3; 33:14–16; Zeph 2:3; Mal 4:1–6). The Servant exemplifies this way of faithful obedience to the claims of the covenant. And it is in this way of righteous-justice that Jesus stands, as he proclaims “the good news of the kingdom”.