The Gospel of St. Matthew

illumination of St. Matthew
Icon of St Matthew holding the Gospel

The Image of the Evangelist has always been a powerful one for they are the bringers of the Word, something we are all called to do by how we live in the world. In the Eastern tradition prayer begins by gazing, or looking with fixed attention until one sees beyond the physical image to what is truly there. In gazing upon the Image of the Evangelist, a human vessel, the viewer opens him or herself to the presence and power of the Divine in our midst.


Saint Matthew wrote his gospel for two reasons. One; to convince those of Judaism that the Messiah had already come in the person of Jesus Christ. Two, as encouragement for those who believed as well as for those who would learn to believe. He carried on with Christ's message that the kingdom of Heaven would embrace all peoples.

The Gospel of Matthew was composed in his native Aramaic or Hebrew tongue, as is mentioned in that Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. One tradition places the writing of this Gospel around the time of the persecution of Herod Agrippa I in 42 A.D. Another tradition places the writing of his gospel around the time of the Council of Jerusalem, between 42 A.D. or 50 A.D. or later. All writing determines St. Matthew's Gospel was written before the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Matthew's trade as a tax collector became the trade of an evangelist. His records and personal recordings of Jesus' words and teachings grew to the Gospel as we know it today.

Writings of Matthew beyond the first Gospel have become lost. He is said to have preached to the Jews in Palestine for at least fifteen years after the Crucifixion.

The Gospel of Matthew begins with narrative prologue explaining the genealogy of Jesus. Then Matthew begins to reveal the mystery of Jesus person beginning with his birth from a virgin. (Matthew 1:23) "He shall be named Emmanuel for in him God is with us."

In the second and third chapters Matthew tells
of the dangers and yet joys of Jesus' childhood, from the Persecution of King Herod to the visit of the magi, the flight into Egypt and the return after Herod's death.

In the fourth chapter Matthew introduces Jesus' ministry with the preaching of John the Baptist. He explains the central message of Jesus' preaching is the coming of the kingdom of heaven, the need for repentance and a complete change of heart and conduct among those who wish to receive this gift from God. No other evangelist provides the teachings of Jesus with such elegance and order as Matthew. He carries on the passion and resurrection in continuing chapters with a kind of serene dignity that is both spell binding and compassionate.

The Gospel of Matthew is suggested to have been composed, perhaps in Antioch the capital of the Roman province of Syria. The gospel explains how the obedience to the will of God is to be articulated by those who live after the 'turn of the ages' the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The principal divisions of Saint Matthew's Gospel are:

The Infancy Narrative (Matthew 1:1-2:23)
The Proclamation of the Kingdom (Matthew 3:1-7:29)
Ministry and Mission in Galilee (Matthew 8:1-11:1)
Opposition from Israel (Matthew 11:2-13:53)
Jesus, the Kingdom, and the Church (Matthew 13:54-18:35)
Ministry in Judea and Jerusalem (Matthew 19:1-25:46)
The Passion and Resurrection (Matthew 26:1-28:20)

The authenticity of the Gospel of Matthew has been questioned from time to time. Early Christian writers argue that St. Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew but that Gospel has disappeared the Gospel of today borrows quotations in Greek. The majority of scholars date the gospel between the years of 70 A.D. and 100 A.D. but there is an argument as to whether the Gospel of Matthew was written before or after the destruction of Jerusalem

Of the four canonical gospels, the Gospel of Matthew is most closely aligned with first century Judaism. Matthew repeated stresses the ways Jesus fulfilled the Jewish prophecies of a Messiah. Matthew is the only gospel which mentions the church (ecclesia). Jesus sites the Church's authority and calls upon the disciples to practice forgiveness. Matthew is the most popular of the Gospels with its rhymical and often poetic prose. Certain details of the life of Christ, such as the homage of the Wise Men and the massacre of the innocents followed by the flight into Egypt, are related only by Matthew.

The earliest Christian communities considered the books of the Old Testament as Sacred Scripture and read them at religious assemblies. The Gospels containing the words of Christ as well as the narrative of his life soon gained the same authority as the Old Testament. A book was acknowledged as canonical when the Church regarded it as Apostolic. By the middle of the third century, the Gospel of Matthew was received by the whole Christian Church as a divinely inspired document and as canonical.

Saint Matthew wrting the Gospel

"Whoever therefore shall deprive of authority one of these least commandments and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever shall do and teach them, this man shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

 

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