The Gospel of Matthew--the focus of Lectionary Year A--holds together things we find easy to separate: story and speech; Israel and the nations; grace and obedience; heaven and earth. These moments of dynamic tension offer a way into the gospel as a whole.
To tell the story of Jesus' ministry, Matthew follows the gospel of Mark's storyline closely. The material that Matthew adds to Mark appears in five long speeches from Jesus. Five times Matthew writes "When Jesus had finished saying these things . . . ," using identical Greek phrasing in each case. These five statements conclude the Sermon on the Mount, a speech when he sends out the disciples, a collection of parables, a chapter on resolving conflict and practicing forgiveness and two chapters on the topic of faithful waiting for the unveiling of the new age.
Jesus is Israel's hope and the hope of the nations. As early as Matthew's genealogy for Jesus, and throughout the gospel as a whole, the nations (or gentiles) are in new as people to whom and through whom God's blessing extends. The four women in the genealogy (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the "wife of Uriah") are all foreign to Israel. Listing these women by name points out that the God of Israel has always been working across the boundaries of Israel.
The word "hypocrite" is used seventeen times in the entire New Testament--once in Mark, three times in Luke, and fourteen times in Matthew. Throughout Matthews gospel, we read of the need for words and actions to be in sync. At times in Matthew, faithful practice is actually more important than any words spoken. Ion Matthew, Jesus expects those who come after him to obey his teaching. But where is grace in the gospel of Matthew and how is it related to the obedience that constitutes discipleship? Grace is the appearance of "God with us" and in the assurance of the angel's message in Joseph's dream that the baby will "save his people from their sins."
In the gospel of Matthew, the kingdom of heaven is not "the place where you go when you die" but rather the time and place where God's will is done perfectly. Matthew's distinction between heaven (above) and earth (below) is spatial as well as a temporal distinction of "now and not yet." In the person and work of Jesus, the time (not yet) and place (heaven) where God's will is lived in its fullness is breaking into this time (now) and place (earth).