3rd Sunday year A

The Year of Matthew

We come to Church on a Sunday for many reasons – to be with others in our community of faith, to pray for our needs and the needs of the world, and of course to receive Christ in the Sacrament and meet him in the Scriptures.

For the readings, we follow a three year Sunday cycle and this year our place of meeting Christ will be the Gospel of Matthew. In Easter and on a few other Sunday’s we’ll read from the Gospel of John but on the whole, we dedicate the whole year to Matthew’s Gospel, and began doing so in Advent.

It’s a powerful Gospel, and Matthew wrote in a particular way for a particular audience – fellow Jews who had become followers of Jesus. As such they had been expelled from the synagogues and ostracised from Jewish life. Matthew’s Gospel was written to reassure them that being a follower of Jesus was a continuation of their faith, not a break from it.

For Matthew, then, he wanted to show that the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Jesus, and that he is the Messiah spoken about by so many Old Testament authors. For example, we read often in Matthew the words “This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken though the prophet.”

For Matthew, Jesus is the new Moses, so like Moses he teaches about the law – but it’s a new law, a developed law, and in the Sermon on the Mount – 3 chapters of the Gospel – Jesus does as Moses did and teaches about the new law from a mountain. In the Gospel as a whole there are five times when Matthew ends a section of his writing with the words “when Jesus had finished”, emphasising the centrality of Jesus as a teacher of the law.

Matthew’s is also the Gospel of the Church and is the only Gospel to speak specifically of the foundation of the Church – we see this in 16:18, for example, when Peter is told that he is the rock on which Jesus will build his Church.

It’s not an entirely unique work: we can recognise over 90% of the Gospel of Mark in Matthew’s Gospel, so we know he wanted to repeat what Mark had written, but make it relevant to his particular readership.

Matthew’s Gospel has a clear six-part structure. The first part contains the stories of the annunciation to Joseph, (not to Mary as in Luke), of the Nativity, of the visit of the Magi (not the adoration of the shepherds as in Luke), the massacre of the innocents and the refugee journey of the Holy Family to Egypt.

The remaining five parts are all long speeches by Jesus followed by actions that he performed. These begin with the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5 – 7), the second concerns the disciples being prepared for their missionary journeys (chapter 10), the third contains a great many parables (chapter 13), the fourth concerns the foundation of the Church (chapter 18), and the last is all about the end times (chapters 24 and 25).

As you see, then, we have a lot to look forward to, so enjoy the year ahead! Prepare for it by reading the Sunday Gospel in advance; study it if you can, but more importantly pray with it. Resources like Pray As You Go and Sacred Space can help a great deal. Take advantage of them!

The Inspiration of St Matthew, by Carravagio

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