AN INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Matthew- A Chosen personality

God's Revealed Truth was transmitted to mankind, both orally and in written form. Certain personalities were chosen to execute the Plan of God by leaving to man written documents which contained His immortal Will. These personalities were inspired to put in writing the word of God. A part of this inspired word of God was recorded in what is called the New Testament. The first book of the New Testament is attributed to St. Matthew, a chosen Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a tax collector when Christ called him to his apostle-ship: "He (Christ) saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, 'Follow me'. And he rose and followed him', 9:9 (cf. Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:27). Matthew wrote his Gospel before the year 70 A.D., when the tragic fall of Jerusalem took place. The fact that he does not mention this catastrophe verifies that it was written before its fall. Others place the date after 90 A.D. without any strong support. Where the book was written is not certain, but it might have been in Antioch. His second name was Levi, which is mentioned by Luke and Mark. As a tax collector, Matthew was a man accustomed to writing, making records and keeping accounts. The Gospel according to Matthew is considered the most important book of the New Testament for its content and arrangement of its material. This Gospel has been carefully artistically arranged. It is considered the most authoritative account of the life of Jesus Christ and serves as the fundamental document of the Christian religion. It is clearly the work of a skilled literary artist and teacher. The Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek.

There are five characteristics that give primacy to this Gospel.

     1) The arrangement of its content, making it an excellent book of instruction, as Matthew gathered the material into sections in order for it to be committed to memory, the method at the time.

     2) This Gospel presents the fullest account of Christ's teaching. Matthew recorded most of the sayings of Christ and preserved them in groups with remarkable skill. The Sermon on the Mount is an excellent example of this, and is considered an excellent exposition of Christian ethics.

     3) Matthew's Gospel is the most comprehensive in that it presents all facets of Christ's activities and teachings, and reflects long and deep study upon this substance. It artistically and appropri­ately combines teaching with biographical narratives. Matthew pre­sents the views and opinions of Christ's teaching without partiality. Because of this, his work was widely accepted by Christians.

     4) This Gospel is an ecclesiastical book. In the mind of the writer, the idea of the Church constantly exists. He is the only evangelist to mention the Church. He records parables of Christ to fit the needs and conditions of the Church. He presents the teachings of Christ to be the law in the Church as the law of Moses was for Israel. This Gospel is considered in all ages as the standard presentation of the Faith.

Matthew's Gospel includes not only the Good News of salvation, but also the new law and the new Church. This is why Matthew emphasizes the Christian leadership of the Church. The true disciples were commissioned to go to ail nations, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I (Christ) have commanded you; and lo, 1 am with you always, to the close of the age", 28:19-20. The book of Matthew is an ecumenical Gospel in many ways. Its material refers to more than one point of view to serve the needs of the world Church. The narratives and sayings included in Matthew's book were shaped in the early days of the Christian movement. In these days, Christians kept the law with a different attitude than the Jewish people, although the Gospel of Matthew had a Jewish appeal as well as one for the Gentiles. Jewish law and Christian freedom can be found side by side, working together, and Matthew can be quoted either for or against the laws of the Pharisees (cf. 15:12-14; 23:2). The reasons for this might be that Matthew sought to honestly bring together the teachings of both the Jews and Gentile Christianity and that he found merits in both. These observations are more explicit when comparing the various aspects of the teachings and text of Matthew.

BEGINNINGS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

Judaism of the first century was a missionary religion in which to be a Jew meant to join a new national group. Matthew was aware of the efforts of this Jewish mission to proselyte new members. On the other hand, Christian missionaries worked to make proselytes-disciples of all nations, to baptize them and to teach them all of Christ's commandments. The difference between the two missionary groups was that the Jewish one tried to perpetuate a national group, while the Christians tried to preach the Gospel throughout all the whole world as a testimony before all nations (cf. 24:14). Matthew tries to compare this mixed community of the nations of the world, the Church, with the Kingdom of God, from which the Son of man will cleanse and purify all causes of sin and evildoing (cf. 13:41). He describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a net thrown out, drawing in all kinds of fish (cf. 13:47). On the other hand Matthew stresses that the field of missionary work is the world (cf. 13:38). He emphasizes that the Kingdom of Heaven is closely related to the world-wide Church, where the Risen Christ is present (cf. 18:20).

The Christian Church sprang out of Judaism, but was conscious that it had a new and profound revelation. At the beginning, the Church had difficulty in relating itself to Judaism, because many Christians respected the Law as still binding, while others believed that the old was an obstacle to the new Christian message. However, toward the end of the first century the antagonism between the two groups had decreased considerably and the differences were disposed of, bringing them somewhat closer. At this point the possibility of a united church of diverging opinions and views had begun to be envisioned by some inspired men. Matthew writes his Gospel with the idea of laying the foundation for such a united Church. His efforts were to unite the different bodies in loyalty to Christ and His new guidelines for life. Matthew appears at times slightly in­consistent because he is trying to harmonize his views to bring together the various groups. However, this inconsistency is deliberate, because Matthew believes that the One Church has room for all types of disciples and followers — for those who keep the Law, and for those who repudiate it; for those who accept Christ as a great Teacher, and for those who accept Him as the Savior (cf. 11:25-21). The universality of Matthew is reflected in his Gospel of trust and fidelity to fact. He does not lean on one side or the other, and avoids contradictions; he selects the different testimonies of all groups and presents them as important for an understanding of the life of Christ. With this spirit, the reader of the Gospel of Matthew gets a clear picture of a second century Christianity, which is the foundation of the Christian Church.

THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE GOSPEL

At the beginning of the Christian era the word "Gospel" was used to signify the "Good News" of the Revealed Truths of Jesus Christ. It was applied to the accounts of the four Evangelists: according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke and according to John. The Gospel according to Matthew headed the list of the four. It was pre-eminent for its popularity, and was most quoted among them. It was the "best-seller" at the beginning of the second century, and was quoted more often than all the other Gospels combined. The second century Christian writers quoted Matthew's book more frequently than any other Gospel. The Gospel of Matthew became popular from the very beginning and never lost its popularity, both in the official and private use of the Church. Its popularity and pre-eminence in the second century Church stemmed from its being the first of the Gospels to be accepted as such by a great center of Christianity, probably Antioch. It became known as the "Gospel according to Matthew", reflecting how he understood it. The Gospel of Matthew was distributed to other parts of the Roman Empire, where similar writings of the other evangelists were ac­cumulated. Early in the second century the four Gospels were collected by the Christian centers, but Matthew's kept its pre­eminence as the first among equals, holding the distinction of being "the most important book in the world" (Irenaios).

The Gospel according to Matthew was used extensively by individuals in homes, churches and centers of learning, because of its completeness of the teachings of Christ. It includes most of the material of Mark, with the additions of the narrative of Christ's birth, the Resurrection and Appearances, the Sermon of the Mount, which contains the full ethical teaching of Christ, Christian morality and the contrast between the Old and New. This Gospel's popularity was also due to the fact that it deals with the needs of Church life. The book was arranged in various sections for reading and worship. It was easily and smoothly read aloud. An important factor is that Matthew eliminates questions and doubts about such events as the baptism of Jesus, which cannot be misinterpreted as a sign of personal repentance, or Peter's desire to hail the Master as Messiah, or the claim that the Body of Christ was stolen from the tomb, to mention a few. Matthew proclaims that as the Synagogue had the Law for the everyday life of the Jewish people, so must the Christian Church have the new Law, the teachings of Christ, for the everyday life of the people.

The Christian should learn this new Law after the pattern of _the earliest disciples of Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is the example that Matthew clearly emphasizes. It is the formal code to be observed by all disciples and followers of Christ. Matthew reiter­ates that the Christians should learn and practice this moral code: "For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned", 12:37. He stresses that the new religion, Christianity, is a new system of morality which is to be applied in life. Therefore, the book of Matthew contains the beginnings of ecclesi­astical law, laws of the Church. Its interests are thoroughly centered in the Church, more so than the other Gospels, making the Church an actual body of worshippers and followers of Christ and His teachings. A few examples that Matthew sets forth are: the penitential system of laws, laws of divorce, laws against wrongdoers, even  excommunication by the Church in such a way that the offender should be regarded as a heathen. For "If he (wrongdoer) refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a gentile and a tax collector," 18:17.

Despite the application of the law, Matthew stresses the forgive­ness and mercy of Christ. As often as one sins against another, he should be forgiven "seventy times seven", 18:22, according to Jesus Christ. Matthew concludes this piece of the Church law with Christ's mag­nificent and meaningful Parable of the Unforgiving Slave (13:37-43): "The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all cause of sin and all evildoers, and throw them in the furnace of fire . . . then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father," 13:41-43.

It is significant to point out that Matthew makes a distinction between the ordinary Christian and the perfect one. At the same time, he recognizes the uncompromising character of Jesus Christ's teach­ing, as shown in His discussion with the "rich young man," 19:16-22. The ordinary Christian is he who keeps the commandments, but the perfect Christian is he who with free will denies himself: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me," 19:21.

Matthew presents the devotional life according to what Christ taught, as reflected in the Church, in contrast to Judaism, which in the Jewish orthodox expression of His day resulted in hypocrisy (cf. 6:1-5). Matthew promotes prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and emphasizes the power of faith and prayer. The Lord's Prayer as recorded by Matthew is liturgical in character in that it is used by the Church often in its services. Other passages reflect the same churchly interest and devotional life.

The following is an outline of the Gospel according to Matthew prepared for the reader so that he or she may become better acquainted with it and also has the opportunity to read the entire Gospel for a fuller understanding.

The Outline of Matthew’s Gospel

The Gospel of Matthew is divided into five divisions like many ^Jewish books, such as the five books of the Pentateuch and Psalms. These five sections are alike in structure and form, each division being clearly discernible by the phrase: "And when Jesus finished these sayings," 7:28 (cf. 11:1, 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). Each division contains a narrative section followed by a section of teaching and instruction:

First Division: Narrative, chs. 3-4; Teaching, chs 5-7

Second Division: Narrative, chs. 8-9; Teaching, ch. 10

Third Division: Narrative, chs. 11-12; Teaching, ch. 13

Fourth Division: Narrative, chs. 14-17; Teaching, ch. 18

Fifth Division: Narrative, chs. 19:22; Teaching, chs. 23-25

In addition to these five divisions, Matthew provides a Prologue, chs. 1-2, and an Epilogue, chs. 26-28. The Prologue proclaims and heralds the Coming of the King as Savior, and the Epilogue proclaims His Crucifixion and Resurrection.

THE PROLOGUE

genealogy of jesus — "The Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham". The generations were 14 times three (ch. 1:1-17).

birth of jesus and visit of magi — "Behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews ... in Bethlehem of Judea?' " 2:2,5.

flight, slaughter and return from egypt — "Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. . . . Out of Egypt have I called my son", 2:13, 15; "Then Herod . . . sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem", 2:16; "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel", 2:20.

THE FIRST DIVISION

THE NARRATIVE: THE MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAP­TIST — "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I", 3:11.

beginning of jesus' ministry — "When Jesus was baptized, . . . the heavens were open and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased' ", 3:16-17.

preaching in galilee — "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' ", 4:17; "And he (Jesus) went about Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people", 4:23.

THE TEACHING: THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT — "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven", "those who mourn", "meek", "hunger", "merciful", "pure in heart", "peacemakers", "those who are persecuted". "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven", 5:3-12.

His disciples — "You are the salt of the earth", 5:13; "You are the light of the world"; "Let your light shine before men", 5:14, 16.

old and new laws — "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them," 5:17. "You shall not kill ... I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment", 5:21, 22. The same teaching on adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation (5:27-47). "You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect", 5:48. "Beware of practicing piety", 6:1. "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing", 6:3. "Pray to your Father who is in secret", 6:6. "When you fast, do not look dismal", 6:16. "Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth", 6:19. "Judge not, that you be not judged", 7:1. "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you", 7:7. "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them", 7:12. "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life", 7:14. "Beware of false prophets . . . you will know them by their fruits", 7:15, 20.

"And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished", 7:28. This phrase ends the First Division.

THE SECOND DIVISION

THE NARRATIVE: THE THREE HEALINGS — "And im­mediately his leprosy was cleansed", 8:3b. "Go; be it done for you as you have believed. And the servant was healed", 8:13. "He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick", 8:16. "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases", 8:17 (cf. Isa. 53.4). teaching about discipleship — "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead", 8:22. "Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?" 8:26. "And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus", 8:34. "He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, 'Follow me'. And he rose and followed him", 9:9. "For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners", 9:13. other miracles — "'Your faith has made you well'. And instantly the woman was made well", 9:22. "He took her by the hand, and the girl arose", 9:25. "He touched their eyes, saying, 'According to your faith be it done to you'. And their eyes were opened", 9:29. "The demon had been cast out", 9:33.

THE TEACHING:    THE COMMISSION OF THE TWELVE

   "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few", 9:37. "And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority", 10:1. "The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot", 10:2-4. "And preach as you go, saying, 'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand'. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons", 10:7-8. "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise", 10:16. "For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you", 10:20. "So everyone who acknowledges me before, men, I also will acknowledge before my Father", 10:32. "He who receives you receives me", 10:40. 

"And when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples", 11:1. This phrase ends the Second Division.

THE THIRD DIVISION

THE NARRATIVE: RELATION OF JOHN THE BAPTIST TO NEW ORDER — "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another", 11:3. "Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John", 11:7. "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee", 11:10 (cf. Mal. 3:1). self-revelation of christ — "All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, 11:27. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest", 11:28. "For I am gently and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls", 11:29. "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light", 11:20. opposition to christ — "Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath", 12:3. "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?" 12:10. "The Pharisees went out and took counsel against him, how to destroy him", 12:14.

THE TEACHING: THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN — "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field", 13:24. "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed . . . when it has grown, it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree", 13:31, 32. "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field", 13:44. "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls", 13:45. "The kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind", 13:47.

"And when Jesus had finished these parables", 13:53. This ends the Third Division.

THE FOURTH DIVISION

THE NARRATIVE: THE FOUNDING OF THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH — "They need not go away; you give them something to eat", 14:16. "And those who ate were about five thousand", 14:21. "The disciples saw him walking on the sea ... 'Take heart, it is I; have no fear' ", 14:27. "Truly you are the Son of God", 14:33.

controversy over ritual cleanliness — "And why do you transgress the commandments of God for the sake of your tradition?" 15:3. "So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God", 15:6. "What comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man", 15:11. "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man", 15:18.

rejection of pharisees and sadducees — "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times", 16:3. "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees", 16:6.

jesus' second self-revelation — "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'. . . . 'You are Peter, and on this rock (his con­fession) I will build my church' ", 16:16, 18. "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer . . . , and be killed, and on the third day be raised", 16:21. "If any man comes after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me", 16:24. "For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?", 16:26.

transfiguration — "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun", 17:2. "A voice from the cloud said, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him'", 17:5.

THE TEACHING: COMMUNITY PROBLEMS — "Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven", 18:1. "Woe to the man who by whom the temptation comes", 18:7. "So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish", 18:14. "If your brother sins against you, go ... alone, ... to others, . . . and if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church", 18:15-17. "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them", 18:20. "How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? . . . 'Seventy times seven' ", 18:21, 22.

"Now when Jesus had finished these sayings," 19:1. This phrase ends the Fourth Division.

THE  FIFTH DIVISION

 THE NARRATIVE: FOLLOWERS AND THEIR REWARDS—

"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven", 19:21. "And everyone who has left . . . for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life", 19:29. "Whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve", 20:27, 28.

events in jerusalem — "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! And when he entered Jerusalem all the city was stirred", 21:9, 10. "Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold . . . 'My house shall be called a house of prayer' ", 21:12, 13. "And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith", 21:22. The Cursing of the Fig Tree, 21:18-22. The Source of Jesus' Authority, 21:23-27. The Parable of the Two Sons, 21:28-32. The Parable of the Wicked Farmers, 21:33-46. The Parables of the Rejected Invitation, 22:1-14. The Question of Tribute, 22:15-22. The Controversy Over the Resurrection, 22:23-33.

the greatest commandments — "You shall love the Lord your r God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your f mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is I. like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two com­mandments depend all the law and the prophets," 22:37-40.

THE TEACHING: DENOUNCEMENT OF SCRIBES AND PHARISEES — "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29.

signs of the end — "Take heed that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name", 24:4, 5. "And then the end will come", 24:14. "Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn", 24:30. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away", 24:35.

preparation and talents — "Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming", 24:42. "The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him ... and will punish him", 24:50, 51. "Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour", 25:13. "For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance", 25:29.

the judgment — "When the Son of man comes ... he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the t goats ... the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left", "* 25:31, 33. " T say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me'. And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life", 25:45, 46. "When Jesus had finished all these sayings," 26:1. This phrase ends the Fifth Division.

 

THE EPILOGUE

 the prophecy of arrest — "The Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified", 26:2. "In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial", 26:12. "What will you give me if I deliver him to you?" 26:15. "One of you will betray me". institution of the eucharist — "Take, eat; this is my body". "Drink of it, all of you", 26:26, 27. The Trial, 27:11-31. The Cruci­fixion, 27:33-44. The Death and Signs, 27:45-56. The Burial, 27:57-61. The Sealed Tomb, 27:62-66.

resurrection — "He is not here; for he has risen", 28:6. "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me", 28:10.

the last words of jesus — "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have com­manded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age", 28:18-20.

ACCORDING TO MATTHEW

St. Matthew writes his Gospel with more deliberation than the others and is more intent on presenting facts. His principle objective is to include as much as possible, especially the sayings of Christ. He sees the facts in the light of the given beliefs, and is thoroughly convinced that the mission of Christ had been foretold in the Old Testament prophecy. In almost every chapter Matthew repeats the phrase: "That the scripture might be fulfilled", emphasizing a par­ticular fact is the fulfillment of a prophecy. It is evident that the aim of Matthew throughout his book was to verify that Christ, as the True Messiah, had brought all the prophecies of old to their fulfillment. He emphasizes the contrast between the teachings of Christ and the Old Law. This contrast is especially shown in his account of the Sermon on the Mount with the phrase: "It was said of them of old time", and "but I say unto you".

Matthew presents the concept of the Church quite frequently. As shown, he constantly relates the teaching of Christ to the needs, circumstances and practice of the Church. Apostle Matthew has been justly characterized as the evangelist who proclaims and verifies the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of the birth of the Savior and the institution of the Church as the everlasting Body of Christ. The Gospel of Matthew is a brilliant religious account of what Christ taught, and has as its center His purpose and mission for man's salvation. This salvation begins with man's acceptance of Christ's calling: "Repent, jor the kingdom of heaven is at hand".

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