The Gospel of Matthew


During 2005, the gospel readings at Sunday Mass will be from the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew is the first gospel in the bible because it was traditionally considered to be the oldest. Modern biblical scholarship, however, shows that this gospel draws heavily on the text of Mark, so it clearly postdates that gospel. Because it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 and is mentioned in documents written at the turn of the century, Matthew’s gospel can be dated somewhere in the period 80AD to 90AD.
The earliest manuscripts did not identify an author, but inexplicably the name Matthew later became attached. For centuries, Christians assumed that this was Matthew the tax collector who became an apostle. However, an eyewitness to the events in the gospel would not have relied on a second-hand source, as this account clearly does, so it is unlikely to have been written by the apostle Matthew.
The distinctive image of Jesus that Matthew’s gospel presents is that of Teacher. This is most evident in the way the writer has arranged his material. Matthew collects the speeches of Jesus into five extended sermons. The first of these is the most famous- the Sermon on the Mount (5:1 7:29). The others are: the Mission Sermon, addressed to the apostles as Jesus sends them out to preach; the Sermon in Parables, a collection of parables all about the kingdom of heaven; the Sermon on the Church, which addresses explicitly the concerns of his latter day church; Sermon on the End Times.
Each of these five sermons concludes with a similar phrase: ‘When Jesus had finished these words/ commands/ parables …’.
This gospel is clearly written for a Jewish audience. Unlike Mark, Matthew does not find it necessary to explain the Jewish purification rites. He affirms the authority of the Torah, the first five books of the bible (his five sermons of Jesus are seen by some scholars as paralleling the Torah) and of the scribes and the Pharisees.
At the time this gospel was written, there was a growing controversy between Matthew’s community and Jewish religious authorities. This divide between the two groups is reflected in Matthew’s account of the controversies between Jesus and the religious authorities. Whilst Jesus no doubt experienced conflict with religious authorities, it is important to keep in mind that the issues that Matthew is addressing are those of his own day.
From Matthew’s perspective, the Jewish authorities have wilfully and deliberately sided with Satan and his gospel contains some virulent anti-Semitic statements. The bitter social circumstances of Matthew’s day explain, but do not excuse, such harsh judgement.
Matthew presents Jesus as the authoritative and definitive interpreter of the Law. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus quotes six times from the Law and in each case adds ‘but I say to you, …’.
More than just interpreter, Jesus is presented as the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets. In total Matthew quotes from the Jewish scriptures 61 times. In 40 of these references, the writer indicates that the passage has been fulfilled in Jesus.
Matthew’s gospel begins with the reassurance that Jesus is Emmanuel, Christ-with-us, and concludes with Christ’s promise to remain with us until the end of time.

Elizabeth Harrington