The Year of Matthew


On this first day of Advent, the Gospel passage at Sunday Mass changes from the Year C selections from Luke to the Year A readings from Matthew.
Scholars generally agree that Matthew’s Gospel was written between the years 80 and 90 in the region around Antioch. One piece of evidence for this dating is that Matthew contains most of the Gospel of Mark and hence must have been composed after 70 when Mark was completed.
As well as using Mark as a source, the writer obviously had access to other material that appears also in the Gospel of Luke but not in Mark or John. In addition to these two sources, Matthew includes information about Jesus that is not given by the other evangelists. Two chapters of infancy narratives and five “Great Sermons” of Jesus which are found in Matthew make this Gospel half as long again as Mark’s which doesn’t contain this material.
Tradition attributes the writing of the Gospel to Matthew the tax collector. What we do know for a fact is that the writer was a Greek-speaker who knew Aramaic and Hebrew and was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. He 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 filled with Jewish ancestors and frequently quotes from the Old Testament.
A striking feature of Matthew’s Gospel is its clear six-part structure. The first section, which serves as an introduction to the work, 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 remaining five parts each consist of a long speech by Jesus followed by a description of actions that he performed. The first is the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5 – 7), the second shows the disciples being prepared for their missionary journeys (chapter 10), the third is filled with 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).
The characteristic themes of Matthew’s Gospel appear in the readings for Advent. Today, the first Sunday, we hear of Christ’s manifestation in glory at the end of time, in the midst of life’s everyday routine. John the Baptist issues the challenge of Matthew’s Gospel to bear good fruit in the reading for the second Sunday. On the following 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.


Elizabeth Harrington