Weekly Reflections for July 30, 2023
The Gospel according to Matthew is the first of the four Gospels found in the New Testament. That position reflects the ancient view that it was the first Gospel written and the fact that it is probably the most quoted of the synoptic Gospels. However, we know from our discussion of the Gospel of Mark that the Gospel of Matthew was written after Mark. Close to 90% of the Gospel of Mark is found in the Gospel of Matthew. Tradition has it that the author of this Gospel is the apostle Matthew, the tax collector (Mt 10:3). Many biblical scholars reject this account of authorship, primarily on the premise that Matthew’s Gospel was written after Mark’s. Why would someone (Matthew), admittedly close to Jesus, rely on Mark’s Gospel so heavily, given Matthew lived those three years with Jesus and would clearly have his own memories of those events? These scholars unfortunately do not provide an identified alternative author, at least by name. Many of these scholars agree that the author was an unnamed Jewish Christian. But not all biblical scholars agree, and many attribute the authorship to that tax collector, who was Jewish and, as a tax collector, would have had to know Greek. So, the Apostle Matthew is just as viable an author as anyone else. Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written between A.D. 80-90. Almost everyone agrees it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, based on the reference to its destruction in Matthew 22:7. The Gospel’s audience is mostly agreed to have been the mix of Jewish and Gentile Christians in and around the city of Antioch, Syria.
The primary theme of the Gospel of Matthew is “the kingdom”. The word kingdom appears over 50 times in the Gospel, and of those 50 occurrences, no less than 30 times is the word found in the key phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew’s kingdom is not like the kingdoms of the age but is the divine perfection of the ancient kingdom of David. One of the reasons Matthew’s Gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus is to clearly show the Davidic connection. Like Mark’s Gospel, Matthew’s Gospel focuses heavily on Jesus as Christ. The image of this messiah is not only as King but also as “the Son of Man,” and most revealingly, Matthew teaches that Jesus is the “Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). Included in Matthew’s vision of the kingdom are the principles, priorities, and imperatives that define the Christian way of life. Matthew shows in Jesus’ interactions with people how Jesus urges the listeners to embrace the demands of discipleship: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Matthew’s Gospel lends itself to being proclaimed and to providing instruction to those desiring to follow the way of Christ. Catechesis has traditionally made extensive use of Matthew, earning it the reputation of being “the catechist’s Gospel” Finally, this Gospel answers the question of how obedience to the will of God is to be expressed by those who live after the “turn of the ages,” the death and resurrection of Jesus.