Q. We have been hearing a lot from the Gospel of Matthew lately. What makes Matthew’s Gospel unique?
The Anglican church assigns readings for each Sunday based on a three-year pattern of readings called the lectionary. We are currently in Year A, and Year A has a primary focus on the Gospel of Matthew. On occasion, our Sunday Gospel will be from one of the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, but you can anticipate hearing the majority of our Gospel selections this year being from Matthew.
For early Christians, the Gospel of Matthew was considered to be one of the most cherished accounts of Jesus’ life, which might explain why it occupies “first place” in the New Testament. Although the original manuscripts were written anonymously, this Gospel came to be associated with Matthew, the disciple and tax collector. It is not written from the perspective of an eye witness account, but it might be that it was written by someone from Matthew’s community who was preserving his stories of following Jesus. For the sake of clarity, we do simply refer to the author of this Gospel as “Matthew” in accordance with the tradition passed down to us.
The crux of Matthew’s understanding of Jesus is laid out almost immediately in the Gospel account. He begins by identifying Jesus as the Christ, and then follows up this claim with naming Jesus as “the son of David , the son of Abraham.” This reveals Matthew’s bias. More than any other Gospel, Matthew claims Jesus as thoroughly and completely Jewish. Abraham was the father of the Jews. David was their greatest king whose descendant was to resume his rule. Jesus, then, was the ultimate fulfillment of the hopes of the Jewish people. Throughout the entire book, Matthew quotes pieces of the Hebrew Scripture, connecting the ancient prophecies of the Jewish people with the life and ministry of Jesus.
This special emphasis in Matthew is played out in a number of the teaching tools that Matthew uses to talk about Jesus. Matthew shapes the opening stories about Jesus’ life in a unique way among the Gospel writers, drawing parallels between Jesus and Moses, Herod and Pharoah, the Sermon on the Mount and the Law of Moses on Mount Sinai, to name a few examples. In this way, he claims Jesus as a new Moses, calling followers of Jesus to honour their Jewish traditions as a follower of Jesus. Interestingly, Matthew also emphasizes, more than the other Gospel authors, that although Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish law and teaching and hope, he is rejected by the leaders of his own people, who are seen as hypocrites who know the truth but do not follow it. Matthew sees Jesus as revealing the core of Jewish teachings, of the Law of Moses, which is LOVE. Through Jesus, we can understand and participate in what has been passed down through the generations that have gone before him, that love of God and love of neighbour must go hand in hand, and “on these two commandments hang all of the law and the prophets.”