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The Gospel According to Matthew
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
On the first day of Advent last week, the Gospel used at Sunday Mass changed from Luke to Matthew, the Gospel for Year A in the 3-year cycle.
Matthew is the first Gospel in the bible because at the time when the New Testament was formed it was believed to be the oldest of the four. It is now accepted that Mark’s Gospel was written first.
Matthew includes most of the Gospel of Mark which was completed around 70AD and refers to the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in the year 70, so it could not have been written before that date. It must have been in circulation before the year 100 because it is mentioned in documents written at the turn of the first century. Scholars generally agree that Matthew’s Gospel was written between the years 80 and 90.
As well as using Mark as a source, the writer obviously had access to material that appears in the Gospel of Luke but not in Mark or John. Matthew also includes information about Jesus that is not given by the other evangelists. The addition of two chapters of infancy narratives and five “Great Sermons” of Jesus makes Matthew’s Gospel half as long again as Mark’s.
According to tradition, the author of this Gospel was the Apostle Matthew, but an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry would not have needed to borrow from other sources as heavily as Matthew does. A study of the text shows that it was written by a Greek-speaker who knew Aramaic and Hebrew.
The writer was most likely a Jewish Christian because one of the main purposes of the work is to provide consolation to those wrestling with the problem of reconciling their Jewish heritage with their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. This is why the Gospel begins with a genealogy of Jewish ancestors and frequently quotes from the Old Testament.
A striking feature of Matthew’s Gospel is its clear six-part structure. The introductory section contains the stories of the annunciation (to Joseph, not to Mary as in Luke), of Jesus’ birth, and of the visit of the magi (not the shepherds as in Luke).
The rest of the Gospel consists of speeches of Jesus which Matthew has grouped into five extended “sermons”. The first is the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5 – 7), in the second the disciples are being prepared for their missionary journeys (chapter 10), the third is a collection parables (chapter 13), the fourth deals with church matters (chapter 18), and the last section concerns the end of the world (chapters 24 and 25).
Each of these five sections concludes with a similar phrase: ‘When Jesus had finished these words/commands/parables …’.
The characteristic themes of Matthew’s Gospel appear in the readings for Advent. On the first Sunday, we heard of Christ’s manifestation in glory at the end of time. In today’s reading, John the Baptist issues the challenge to bear good fruit. Next Sunday we see Jesus beginning to establish God’s kingdom by righting the wrongs addressed in the Beatitudes. Advent concludes with the angel naming Jesus as “Emmanuel”, God with us.
The evangelist Matthew is depicted symbolically as the figure of a man because of Matthew’s emphasis on the incarnation and on the humanity of Christ. Matthew’s gospel begins with the reassurance that Jesus has come to be with us, and concludes with Christ’s promise to remain with us until the end of time.