Friday was my day off.
I had arranged with work to be gone; I had arranged with the cancer center to come early for my radiation appointment; and I had arranged with my family to spend a few hours with them on an annual trip to Nashville, Ind.
I had arranged everything.
Except the flat tire. As I drove the hospital in the dark Friday morning, I could tell something was desperately wrong with the car. The loud grinding noise and the sluggish dragging feeling did not immediately indicate “flat tire” to me, a vehicular idiot.
But since the hospital was less than a mile from my house, and to pull over on the side of the road in the dark seemed more dangerous than carrying on, that’s what I did. Carry on, all the way to the hospital, on a very flat tire.
That was not part of my plan.
But after going ahead with the treatment and then making a few phone calls, I had a new plan in place. A plan that involved roadside assistance and tire patches and a two-hour delay, but a plan that also involved sovereignty and mercy and a whole lot of gratitude. That nail in my tire meant it would be flat eventually. Either a mile from my house, or going 70 mph on the interstate.
As I read Matthew 7-8 in my Bible, then began digging into the new book, I realized right away what made this series different than other commentaries I had read. This one provided a sense of application, and with my tire deflated as I read, I found myself the subject of Jesus’ teaching.
Attempting to keep the parking spot next to me free for the wrecker driver who would need to jack up the car, I kindly asked a woman who pulled into the spot if she would mind moving, as much for the sake of her own car as for mine.
She huffed at me, visibly perturbed, said, “Fine,” with exasperation, pulling to a spot even closer to the building.
I’m the one with the flat tire, I thought. I’m the one having a bad day. What an unkind person. Yet there I was reading author Matt Woodley’s commentary on Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”
In this passage, Jesus quietly dismantles an insidious cycle that operates in human hearts and communities: the cycle of condemnation and judgment. In this cycle I don’t just judge moral behaviors; I judge you. And then based on my incomplete, hasty and harsh judgment, I devalue and then exclude you from my life or the life of our community.
I was sitting in the parking lot of a cancer center, after all. Chances are, her day WAS worse then mine. Or at least just as bad.
Over and over again as I read, the commentary invited me to understand the text and then consider how my life might be changed by it, flat tires and all. And I found myself eagerly accepting that invitation.
Throughout the commentary of Matthew chapters 7 and 8, Woodley told stories of pizza restaurant owners and atheist neighbors, but he also explained the Greek derivation for the word “perish” in Matthew 8:25, and he explained the Old Testament significance of the phrase “Son of Man.”
Make no mistake, this series is not academic. I didn’t get a sense that I could read the commentary and conjugate Greek verbs or understand all of the controversy surrounding different interpretations of the synoptic gospels. There are other commentaries for that.
But I did feel like I could read the Bible for understanding, then turn to the Resonate series for help in the difficult passages. And definitely find a way for my own life and the Bible to intersect.
I thought of this commentary again Sunday as the cashier at the restaurant where I was having lunch rang up our order incorrectly. And this after several minutes of trying to explain what we wanted. When I tried to get some money back, she blamed my friend and I for telling her to ring it up incorrectly. I was getting frustrated.
“Never mind,” I said angrily as I walked away. She’s obviously not cut out for this job, I thought.
But then my friend, Kelly, and I started talking with her two young sons, Alex and Jensen, about what we had learned at church that morning. When I mentioned the word “gospel,” Kelly asked the boys if they knew what it meant.
After they offered a few answers, I said, “Gospel means good news. It’s good news that Jesus died for us and didn’t count our sins against us. That’s why we need to treat others with generosity because that’s how Jesus treated us.”
I was cut to the quick. My attitude toward the restaurant worker had been far from gospel-saturated.
When Alex asked for another taco, I took him up to the counter, helped him order, and as I was paying, I got the attention of the clerk. “I just wanted to apologize for being rude earlier,” I said. “Will you forgive me?”
“It’s ok. Do you understand what happened now,” she asked, wanting to make sure I realized that she was right. I was tempted to get back into the same argument. But for the sake of the Gospel, I decided instead to just say, “Everything’s ok now. Thank you.” Then I put $2 in the empty tip jar and walked back to the table.
“If we begin the spiritual journey in poverty,” Woodley writes of the end of Matthew 8, “knowing our dire need for grace, we will end up displaying gentleness and working for righteousness. Those who know and experience the Father’s tender love cannot continue to treat others with cruelty or indifference. Once we taste the new wine of Jesus, we can’t keep putting it back into those old wineskins of hypocrisy and disobedience.”
I can’t wait to read more. And I can’t wait to meet Jesus on those pages.
I am writing today as part of IVP’s blog tour promoting their new book, The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us, in their Resonate Series of commentaries. IVP provided me with a free copy of the book for participating in the tour and asked that I write honestly about my experiences with it. If you would like to read what others are writing about the book, visit the bloggers below on the blog tour (come back later in the week for additional links).
Chapters 7-8, Nov 8 Charity Singleton
Chapter 18 Nov 11 Heather A Goodman
Chapter 19 Nov 11
Chapter 20 Nov 11
Chapter 21 Nov 14 Suzannah Paul
Chapter 22 Nov 14 Ray Hollenbach
Chapter 23 Nov 14 Christian Piatt
Chapter 24 Nov 15 Lisa DeLay
Chapter 25 Nov 15 Dan King
Chapter 26 Nov 16 Christine Sine
Chapters 27-28 Nov 16 Jeremy Bouma