Tag Archives: Gospel of Matthew

Matthew, the tax collector


Jews  usually turned away as they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But look at our gospel for today:

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. Tax collectors were good at keeping books. Was Matthew’s task to keep memories? Did he remember some things that were especially related to his world?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out the man in the tree to Jesus, a tax collector like himself, who brought them all to his house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

Pope Francis said he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

Matthew’s Gospel?

The gospels themselves recall little about Matthew, an apostle of Jesus. We have his name, his occupation and a brief story of a banquet that took place with Jesus and some of his friends after his call.  ( Mt 9: 9-13; Mk 2:3-12; Lk5:18-26) As it is, the gospels concentrate on the ministry and teaching of Jesus. 

In the early centuries, those who knew Jesus told his story and brought his message to the world. As they died, writings about him gradually appeared, but there are only scarce references to who wrote them. St. Justin Martyr in the early 2nd century speaks of the “memoirs of the apostles”, without indicating any author by name. Later in that century, St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, writing against the Gnostics who claim a superior knowledge of Jesus Christ attributes the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are eyewitnesses who really know Jesus firsthand; they have given us their “memoirs.” 

Scholars today are less likely to credit Matthew’s Gospel to the tax-collector from Capernaum whom Jesus called. Some of his memoirs perhaps may be there– after all he came from a profession good at accounting for things. But too many indications point to other sources. Why would Matthew, if he is an eyewitness, depend on Mark’s Gospel as he does? Language, the structure of the gospel, the circumstances it addresses, point to a Jewish-Christian area beyond Palestine as its source, probably Antioch in Syria, probably written around the year 8o, after the Gospel of Mark.

Traditions says that Matthew preached in Ethiopia and Persia, but they have no historical basis.

He is remembered as a martyr who died for the faith, but again there is no historical basis. 

Better to see Matthew as the gospel sees him: one of the first outsiders whom Jesus called. And he would not be the last..

Daily Readings, Daily Bread

Reading the scriptures daily and on Sundays in the lectionary and the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the great reforms begun by the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. It’s part of an effort to seek renewal through the Word of God. Yet, after 60 or so years, we’re still getting used to it.

For one thing, reflection on the scripture readings is a new way to reflect on our faith.  The scriptures are old and we live in a new world. As we search for “the face of God” in scripture we have to “trust” we will find it there.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”The daily scriptures are daily bread, but they may not be easy to digest. We go from Matthew, preoccupied with the tensions of his church with Pharisaic Judaism,  to Luke preoccupied with an outreach to the gentiles, to the other New Testament writings, each with its own purpose.

Then there are the various readings of the Old Testament. They can be hard to understand, but the church wisely keeps them side by side with the New Testament. They hold a treasure all their own. We need to understand them better.

We need help to appreciate this daily bread, this varied diet served up. We need people like those hostssss on the cooking shows on television who not only  tell you what to eat but make those strange dishes appetizing and appealing. We need good homilists and good catechists.

We need a “lamp, shining in a dark place.” So we ask: Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with your light.”

Tuesday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1


Call no one on earth your father;

you have but one Father in heaven.

The greatest among you must be your servant.

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;

but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

     Last week’s lenten readings were centered on prayer, this week’s are about mercy. Our gospel readings from Matthew and Luke are written with a particular audience in mind. Both describe who Jesus is and what he taught, but each does it with an eye to his own time and place.

Matthew’s gospel, for example, was written for Jewish Christians who were still living, rather uneasily, among their fellow Jews, possibly in Syria or Palestine, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The synagogues Matthew describes in today’s gospel are the synagogues of his time rather than the Galilean synagogues of Jesus’ day. Now they’re in the hands of Jewish leaders trying to salvage Judaism after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. 

These current teachers “on the chair of Moses” are honored in Jewish society and on the streets. They’re keeping Judaism alive in the synagogues; Jews are living together, praying and keeping their traditions under a new discipline, replacing the former discipline of the temple in Jerusalem. 

Yet the followers of Jesus aren’t welcome in this new order, Matthew’s gospel indicates, and so they need to remember that Jesus is their teacher, even if he is not recognized. Having power in a synagogue isn’t what’s important; being a servant is. Jesus had servant power.

But again, this week is about mercy. Matthew’s gospel tends to be hard on the Jewish society of his day, commentators note, so how does it contribute to that teaching ?  I’ll bet readings from Luke were introduced into this 2nd week of Lent for his wonderful perspective on mercy. Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son, one of the greatest stories of mercy in the scriptures, closes this week. 

Yesterday we heard Jesus’ strong teaching on mercy, also from Luke.“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you. “

Still, if mercy is the teaching this week, why read this gospel from Matthew we today? Does it tell us mercy doesn’t happen in an instant; It takes time? People don’t change quickly, situations don’t change quickly. Mercy doesn’t come to us easily. 

Mercy is something we to ask for every day;  we ask it for ourselves and for others. Lord, have mercy.

Lord,
lead me away from temptations of self-importance,
as if my ideas, my vision, my convenience matter most.
You came to serve and not to be served.
Show me how to wish for what’s best for others
and save me from being a know-it-all.
Show me my faults,
and then take them away.

Learning in Bad Times

I find myself turning away from the news on television these days. I don’t think I’m the only one. The pandemic only seems to be getting worse, and we’re getting worse with it.

So we turn to the Good News.

I’m finding the Gospel of Matthew, which we’re reading these weekdays and on Sundays, helpful. It was written for people struggling with bad times.

The bad times were around the year AD 90 when the followers of Jesus in Galilee were reeling from the attacks of a resurgent Judaism. Those attacks are described in Chapters 10-12 of Matthew’s gospel.

Instead of closing their eyes and hanging on tight, Jesus tells his disciples to open their eyes and their ears, because there’s something for them to learn. “Blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and hear what you hear and did not hear it”  (Matthew 13:16-17). He says that as he teaches them in parables.

Bad times can be the best times to learn. Some of the best things we know; some of the best insights we have;  some of the most creative thoughts may come in bad times. God doesn’t stop speaking or teaching in bad times; God sows seeds and opens new avenues. New treasures, new pearls are there to be discovered in the ground we walk over and the jumble of things that seem to overwhelm us.

We will be reading soon the parables of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price and the net that pulls up a bewildering variety of things from the sea.  It’s a message continued in the mystery of the Passion of Jesus. The disciples saw only death and failure there at first, but then they saw treasures in the wounds, the blood and water that flowed from his side, the words he said.

We don’t have to turn away from bad times. They’re times to keep your eyes and ears open, Jesus says. Like his first disciples, we should pray, not for blinders, but for “understanding hearts.”

New Wine into Fresh Wineskins

13th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Amos 9:11-15; Matthew 9:14-17

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus and the Twelve must have appeared to the mourning disciples of the beheaded John the Baptist as a spiritually undisciplined band. The unduly curious inquirers received only a cryptic response: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”

Jesus alluded to the joy and festivity of the week-long, traditional Jewish wedding in which the bridegroom and his closest friends rejoiced and sang together in cheerful abandon. The bridegroom has come, the one whom the prophets spoke about, as in the hopeful passage in Amos: On that day I will raise up the fallen hut of David… The juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains, and all the hills shall run with it. I will bring about the restoration of my people Israel…

Jesus’ first miracle was at the wedding feast of Cana when he turned water into the “juice of grapes,” saving the bridegroom’s party. 

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. Joy will turn into sorrow soon enough, Jesus said, and then his disciples will be as the Baptists’s—fasting and mourning.

More cryptic illustrations followed:

No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

A grand vision of a new era and a new Jerusalem came before the Bridegroom’s mind as he hinted at the superseding of the Old Law with the New, of the expansion of Israel to include the Gentiles. Persons with hearts of stone like the tablets of Moses will have hearts of flesh quickened by the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). The law will be written upon their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). 

Trying to patch the new onto the old was an exercise in futility. The cherished “temple” Jesus was sent to destroy and raise up again in three days was a threat to a centuries-old establishment. Social inertia and resistance to change would build up steam and eventually crucify the alleged king and bridegroom, unintentionally fulfilling his prophecy. 

These pictorial remarks likely left Jesus’ inquisitors more puzzled than enlightened. One sometimes wonders when reading the Gospels whether Jesus wanted to be understood or not in various interactions. Oftentimes no attempt was made to explain words that provoked misunderstanding. Perhaps knowing that his long-term vision was beyond the capacity of his listeners and also beyond the power of words, Jesus simply dropped images and hints here and there to be unpacked after his death and resurrection. We are still unpacking them.

-GMC

Related post: The New Wine of the Holy Spirit

God doesn’t demonize

We’re reading Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew this week at Mass. Paul’s letter was written about the year 55 AD, 20 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 AD, some 40 years later.

Paul’s letters illustrate his practice of going first into Jewish synagogues to preach the gospel. Before his conversion to Christianity, he went to the synagogues as a Pharisee to pursue and arrest Christians. Now members of the Pharisaic movement sharply confront him..

The Gospel of Matthew reflects this same confrontation. Matthew’s gospel was written at a highpoint of Jewish-Christian controversy, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.  Passages from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel would lead you to think that the Pharisees were Jesus’ fiercest enemies.

In reality, a number of Pharisees, like Nicodemus and Paul himself, became his most important followers, The Pharisees were certainly antagonistic to Jesus in his lifetime; he was angry with them for their blindness to him and his message, but he didn’t see them as mortal, eternal enemies.

We have to read the scriptures with an eye on the time they were written; It helps us understand the hot rhetoric we hear in Matthew’s reading for today.

What lesson can we learn from learn from readings like these? Don’t demonize your enemies. God doesn’t do that and neither should we.

That’s an important lesson to remember today as we look at the Muslim world. Jesus didn’t demonize people; he turned to the thief on the cross, he told the story of a prodigal son, he received back the disciples who abandoned him.,

When we bring the bread and wine to the altar at Mass, we bring to God all of creation, not just a part of it. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,” we say. All creation is God’s creation. He wishes to bless it and see it at peace and harmony. God wishes us to see things as he see them.

God doesn’t demonize.

As Lambs Among Wolves

In the gospels read at Mass this week, from the 10th chapter of Matthew, Jesus sends the Twelve on a mission. They have a restricted mission: “Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.” (Matthew 10, 1)

They have authority over unclean spirits and can cure every kind of disease, important gifts, but they haven’t received power to teach yet. That will come after Jesus’ resurrection.They’re also told not to go into pagan territory or Samaritan towns. but to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

They’re on a restricted mission.

The evangelists differ. In Luke’s gospel, read last Sunday, Jesus not only sends the twelve, but seventy two others. No restrictions are given them. Go to every town and place I intend to visit, Jesus says to them.

In both gospels, the disciples are told to have no walking stick, no traveling bag, no sandals.. They’re not promised economic security or assurance they’ll be received well and their mission will be successful.

Ministry will never be easy, under any circumstances. It will always be “as lambs among wolves.” Ministry changes as times and circumstances change, but whatever the time and circumstances, we’re sent.

What are we called to do today? Something must be done today, something we don’t see. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And Jesus repeatedly says, “Don’t be afraid to do it.”

His