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The Feast + Gospel of St. Matthew

matthew the apostle

Can I tell you something?

Long before I had a personal relationship with Jesus or a prayer life of any depth, I would always roll my eyes if on Sunday Mass a certain text from the Gospel of St. Matthew was read aloud.

Can you guess which one I am referring to?

The genealogy of Jesus that is full of all those difficult to pronounce first and last names.

Fast forward ten years or so.

My Favorite Gospel: St. Matthew

I now read and love the four Gospels in an intimate, personal way. But in a special way over the years, Matthew has become one of my favorite two of the four Gospels (the other one being John). And yes, I have grown to love and appreciate the telling of Jesus’ genealogy! There is something special to me now about understanding and appreciating the genealogy of Jesus.

The Gospel according to St. Matthew was the most widely distributed in the early Church. Even when the canon of Sacred Scripture began to crystalize, a primacy of honor was still given to Matthew. This is for a variety of reasons. One important point being that Matthew was the first Gospel to be published and distributed bearing the name of one of the original Twelve Apostles.

Matthew’s account offers a beautiful account of the life and mission of Jesus Christ, with equal focus on His mighty deeds and memorable teachings. Matthew’s Gospel insists that the Good News of Jesus is meant to be proclaimed—not only to the Jews but also the Gentiles. The mission and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are for all people everywhere; a concept all the more important for our world today.

As the Church calendar honors the feast of Saint Matthew today, I wanted to help demystify him a bit and help us better understand and appreciate this particular Gospel. Looking at three different categories, I want to unpack more deeply the author, his audience, and the message.

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Author

From as early as the second century, it was the widely accepted belief that the Gospel according to Matthew was written by St. Matthew the tax collector himself. Today, the apostolic authorship of Matthew’s Gospel is only held by a minority of biblical scholars. The reasons are many and varied.

Most critical scholarship identifies the Gospel of Matthew was written by a Jewish Christian of the time. Some believe Matthew’s Gospel was written and obtained information from the Gospel according to Mark. The author of Matthew’s Gospel shows familiarity with cultural and religious customs of his day, giving him firsthand knowledge of the writings, language, and traditions of ancient Israel.

However, in the final analysis, the view of Christian tradition (the author was Matthew) and the view of critical scholarship (the author was a Jewish Christian), Sacred Scripture tells us that Matthew was a Jewish disciple of Jesus (Matthew 9:9, 10:3). Being a tax collector in ancient Galilee, Matthew would have been fluent in Greek, so it is not that great a leap to say the person the Gospel calls Matthew fits quite well the profile of the evangelist assumed by modern scholars.

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Audience

Christian scholars have long maintained that Matthew’s Gospel was written for a Palenstinian Christian audience. The Jewish perspective and tone of the book seem to point in that direction, as did the fact that Matthew had originally written in a Semitic language, such as Aramic or Hebrew. Since few Gentiles would be interested in a work influenced by Jewish concerns, every indication points to the fact that Matthew’s Gospel was meant for new believers in Palestine. The Jewish perspective the book is written would have been very familiar and helpful to new Jewish Christian converts.

Biblical scholarship today pinpoints Matthew’s original audience and readers in the eastern Mediterranean region. However, the majority of modern scholars today believe the Gospel of Matthew was written to a mixed community of both Jewish and Gentile Christians in or around the Syrian city of Antioch. Thought the exact locations remain uncertain, it is very probable that Matthew’s original audience lived around the Syria-Palestine region.

Message

The Gospel of Matthew can easily be summed up as the “Gospel of the kingdom.” Interestingly enough, the word kingdom appears over 50 times in the Gospel. In Matthew’s theology, the kingdom of Heaven is the divine perfection of the ancient kingdom of the great King David. Jewish Christians would have been very familiar with this strong theme in the experience.

Throughout the gospel a very strong theme views Jesus as the fulfillment of the Davidic Messiah. The new and everlasting covenant established through Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant of kingship. While King David was a strong, mighty warrior king, the kingship of Jesus Christ is radically and profoundly different.

Have You Read the Gospel of Matthew Lately?

In the almost ten years of working as a parish youth minister, one of my favorite things to do was help teens meet and discover the person of Jesus Christ through the four Gospel accounts. I often tell people to this day, You want to get to know Jesus personally? Read the four Gospels!

Today’s feast is as good a time as any to dive more deeply in the Gospel accounts (specifically Matthew!) to get to know Jesus on a heart level.

Start in Matthew…take your time each day reading a bit and praying over it.

I am excited for how He speaks to your heart in new ways.

This blog post references citations and historical insights from the book The Gospel of Matthew by Curtis Mithc and Edward Sri.

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Patty Breen is a regular contributor to the BIS blog and a devotion writer. She is a full-time lay minister who finds joy in running, strong cups of coffee, and all things Ignatian spirituality. A Midwestern gal from the mitten state, she is constantly learning to find grace in all things. She is passionate about ministry to divorced Catholics and women whose relationships have been impacted by sexual addiction. You can find out more about her here.

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