TO THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
Mark and Luke are usually known as the Synoptic Gospels. Synoptic comes from
two Greek words which mean to "see together." These three gospels each give
an account of the same events in Jesus' life. There are in each of them
additions and omissions; but the arrangement of their material is similar.
There is believed that Mark was the first of the gospels to be written, and
that the other two, Matthew and Luke, used Mark as a basis for their
writings. Matthew has 1,068 verses, and Luke has 1,149 verses. Between them
they reproduce 582 of Mark's verses. That means that in Matthew and Luke
there is much more material than Mark supplies. It is believed that Matthew
and Luke drew from a common source of the sayings of Jesus. That book does
not now exist; but the scholars have given it the letter Q which stands for
Quelle, the German word for "source." In addition, both Matthew
and have included material that only found in their gospels. Papias, one of
the earliest Church historians, gives us an important piece of information:
"Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew tongue."
know very little about
Matthew himself. We read of his call in Matt.9:9 as he
sat at his custom's booth. Matthew was a tax-collector and therefore he
would have been hated by the Jews since he had entered the civil service of
Rome, their conquerors. Most of the disciples were fishermen. They would
have little skill in putting words together on paper; but as a tax-collector
Matthew would be an expert. When Jesus called Matthew, he left everything
behind him except his pen which he used to compile
an account of the teachings of Jesus.
OF MATTHEW'S GOSPEL
characteristic of Matthew's gospel is that it
was written for the Jews in order to convince them that the prophecies of
the Old Testament concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus. The
phrase, "This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet"
occurs in his gospel as often as 16 times. Jesus' birth and his name,
"Emmanuel," are the fulfillment of prophecy (Matt.1:21-23); so are the
flight to Egypt (Matt.2:14-15); the slaughter of the children
(Matt.2:16-18); Joseph's settlement in Nazareth and Jesus' upbringing
there (Matt.2:23); Jesus' use of parables (Matt.13:34-35); the triumphal
entry into Jerusalem (Matt.21:3-5); the betrayal for thirty pieces of
silver (Matt.27:9); and the casting of lots for Jesus' garments as he hung
on the Cross (Matt.27:35). Matthew's purpose is to show how every detail
of Jesus' life was foreshadowed in the prophets, and thus to convince the
Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jewishness
of Matthew is also seen in his attitude to the Law. Matthew was written by
one who knew and loved the Law. Jesus did not come to destroy, but to
fulfill the Law; the least part of the Law would not pass away.
is especially interested in the Church. He is the only one of the
Synoptic Gospel writers that uses the word Church at all. Matthew
introduces the passage about the Church after Peter's confession at
Caesarea Philippi (Matt.16:13-23). Only Matthew says that disputes are to
be settled by the Church (Matt.18:17). By the time Matthew came to be
written the Church had become a great organization and institution, and
the dominant factor in the life of the Christian.
Matthew had a strong apocalyptic interest. That is to say, Matthew was interested
in all that Jesus said about "the last things," Christ's Second Coming,
the end of the world, and the last judgment. Matthew alone has the
parables of the talents (Matt.25:14-30); the wise and the foolish virgins
(Matt.25:1-13); and the sheep and the goats (Matt.25:31-46).
Another characteristic of Matthew's gospel is that it is the teaching
gospel. Matthew always arranges things
in a way that is easy for the reader to memorize. The result is that in
Matthew we find five sermons in which the teaching of Jesus is collected
(similar to the five books of the Pentateuch in the Old Testament). These
are preceded by a narrative section, and together they comprise a "book."
Each section has a concluding statement such as: "Now
when Jesus had finished saying these things . . .(Matt. 7:28). The five
books are as follows:
(1) The Sermon on the Mount,
5--7. (2) The Missionary Discourse, 10. (3) The Parable Discourses,
13. (4) The Church Order Discourse, 18. (5)
The Discourse on the Final Coming of Christ,
has one final characteristic, the idea of Jesus as King. Right at the
beginning the genealogy is to prove that Jesus is the Son of David
(Matt.1:1-17). The title, Son of David, is used more often in Matthew
than in any other gospel (15:22; 21:9; 15). The wise men come looking for
him who is King of the Jews (2:2). In the Sermon on the Mount,
Matthew shows us Jesus quoting the Law and five times claiming his
authority over Moses: "But I say to you..." (Matt.5:21, 27, 34, 38,
43). The triumphal entry is a dramatization
of Jesus' claim to be King (21:1-11). Before Pilate, Jesus deliberately
accepts the name of King (27:11). Even on the Cross the title of King is
affixed, even if it be in mockery, over his head (27:37). The final claim of Jesus is: "All authority has been given
to me" (Matt.28:18). Matthew's picture of Jesus is of one who was born to
be King. Jesus walks through Matthew's pages as
if clothed in royalty.
Matthew 1 ― 2
KEY VERSE: "The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and
they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us" (Mt 1:23).
STUDY: Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy to show that Jesus is
the fulfillment of Israel's longing for a Messiah. Matthew traces Israel's
history through three sets of fourteen generations, from the days of glory when
King David sat on the throne to the days of agony when God's people were taken
into exile in Babylonia. Matthew's genealogy is
divided into three parts, and each part is supposed to have 14 generations.
Matthew's schema suggests symbolism rather than history.
The number 14 is
probably the numerical value of the
consonants in the Hebrew version of David's name (DVD, 4+6+4=14), and would mean that the whole genealogy has a Davidic character.
Jesus is the Messianic King
whose throne would stand firm forever (2 Sm 7:16).
Although Joseph (of the household of David) assumes legal paternity for
the child, the virginal birth shows that Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus' family tree also shows
some surprising irregularities. Except for Mary, the mother of Jesus, the other
four women mentioned are all non-Jews - Tamar,
Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
Jesus is the faithful son of Abraham through whom all nations will be blessed
While Luke's gospel narrated the nativity from Mary's
perspective, Matthew recounted the infancy story from Joseph's point of view.
When Joseph discovered that Mary was with child, he decided to divorce her (the
betrothed were considered spouses). Joseph was a "righteous man" (one who
followed the Mosaic Law), but he decided to divorce her quietly as he was
unwilling to "expose her to public disgrace" (Mt 1:19). Moreover, the
charge of adultery carried the penalty of death by stoning (Dt 22:23-24).
Just as the patriarch Joseph received divine communication through dreams
(Gn 37:5-9), God's messenger appeared to Joseph in a dream. He was told
not to fear taking Mary as his wife as the child had been conceived
through God's Spirit, who the Jews connected with the work of creation (Gn
1:2, 2:7). Joseph was told to name the child Jesus (Hebrew,
Yeshua) meaning "Yahweh saves."
Jesus was also "Emmanuel," meaning "God is with us." Like Mary, Joseph
responded with faithful obedience to the divine messenger's words.
Although Matthew wrote his gospel to a Jewish
audience he wanted to show that Jesus came to bring
salvation to the
gentile world (Greek, ethnos). Matthew communicated this intention by having gentiles
first people to visit the Holy Family in Bethlehem. These
"wise men from the East" (Mt 2:1) were astrologers
who followed a star to
Jerusalem. There they asked King Herod the Great where they could find the
newborn "king of the Jews" because they "observed his star at its
rising" (Mt 2:2, see Nm 24:17). Herod's advisors told
him that the prophet Micah
(Mi 5:2) foretold the birth of a Messiah in Bethlehem, the birthplace of
David where he was also anointed king. Herod feared that this
child would be a threat to his throne, and
he sent the magi to search for him on the pretence of offering
The star illuminated the way to the Christ child and Mary his mother.
The magi offered Jesus gifts that signified his kingship (gold), priesthood (frankincense,
used for making incense) and his saving death (myrrh, used in anointing a body).
Warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi returned
to their country "by another way" (v 12). We are all invited to discover
the Lord through the different journeys in faith
we undertake. But after encountering Christ we cannot
return to our old ways.
We must travel in a different direction by the
way we live our lives.
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the
wise men, he sent his soldiers to slay all the
children two years and under in Bethlehem and in
the districts near by. Matthew quoted the prophet Jeremiah who spoke of
Israel as 'Rachel,' mourning her children who were taken into captivity
(Jer 31:15). Joseph was warned in a dream to flee into Egypt to escape
Herod's murderous intentions. Just as the Hebrews found protection in
Egypt under the patriarch Joseph (Gn 47:12), Joseph was doing what many Jews had done before him in time of peril. When
life became intolerable for the Jews, they sought refuge in Egypt. The
result was that every city in Egypt had its colony of Jews,
and in the city of Alexandria there were actually more than a million
Jews. Mary's spouse obeyed the angel's order to take his family to safety
In promising their safe return to Israel,
Matthew saw the flight to Egypt as a fulfillment
of the words spoken by the prophet Hosea when
God delivered the nation of Israel from bondage in the land of Egypt: "Out
of Egypt have I called my son" (11:1). Matthew knew that the fulfillment
of this Old Testament prophecy would convince the Jews that Jesus was the
promised Anointed One of God.
FOR REFLECTION: Do you know that God is with you? How do you experience
the presence of God in difficult times?
Matthew 3 ― 4
KEY VERSE: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matt
TO STUDY: John the Baptist stood at the
juncture of the Old and New Testament. For four hundred years there had
been no prophet in Israel, but in John the prophetic voice spoke again in
the wilderness of Judea. John's proclamation was one of repentance in
preparation for the coming of God's reign. Like the prophet Elijah, John
was sent to prepare the way of the Lord (Mal 3:23, NAB, 4:5). Responding
to the Lord required contrition for one's sins as well as a change of
heart and conduct (Greek: metanoia). The religious leaders were
presumptuous in thinking that they had a special
privilege since their ancestor was Abraham. As
God's chosen people they thought that they had
nothing to worry about. But John told them that this advantage would not
save them. They must be converted, confess their sins and be immersed in
water. This purifying bath was a sign of conversion to a new way of life.
John said that "one mightier" than he would baptize with the sanctifying
fire of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would come to separate the good and bad in
the same way that useless chaff was separated from fine wheat.
During the time of Jesus the Jews practiced many kinds of water
purifications. Priests washed themselves ritually before exercising any
sacred function. People had to be purified with water after they touched a
corpse, or a tomb. Some Jewish leaders required a ritual washing before
eating. Christian baptism is very different from those ritual washings or
cleansings, which were self-administered and could be repeated many times.
Christian baptism is administered to a person only once in a lifetime. At
the heart of Christian baptism is dying to one way of living and then
rising to a whole new way of life. The word baptism comes from a Greek
word (baptisma) that means to plunge, or to become submerged in water and
drowned. In baptism, the elect are plunged into the death and resurrection
of Christ (Ro.6:3-5).
The baptism of Jesus was an "epiphany," a manifestation of the divine
presence. Though Jesus was sinless and had no need to be baptized, he came
to John to "fulfill all righteousness" (v 15). By submitting to baptism
Jesus embraced our full humanity. God's beloved Son entered the murky
waters of human sinfulness and sanctified it by his divine presence (2 Cor
5:21). God's favor rests on Jesus and all God's beloved sons and
Following his baptism, Jesus spent forty days in the desert. The
Israelites were tested for forty years in the wilderness and failed,
whereas Jesus proved his faithfulness in his forty day sojourn. In
contrast to the disobedience of God's people, Jesus rejected every
temptation to earthly power. The ways of the world were not the ways of
Jesus. He defeated Satan's distorted use of God's word by quoting from the
book of Deuteronomy that retold the story of Israel's desert
wanderings. Matthew wrote, “The devil left Jesus for a time” (Mt 4:11),
but those temptations keep coming back to those who follow Jesus. As
disciples, we have to keep trying to be a community that rejects the so
called wisdom of the world.
When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod Antipas,
he withdrew from Nazareth (in the region of Zebulon), and moved north to
Capernaum (in the region of Naphtali). Matthew saw this move as fulfilling
Isaiah's prophecy that a "great light" would shine on this land in
darkness (Is 8:23-9:1). The northern territory of these two "brothers"
(Zebulon and Naphtali) was the first to fall during the Assyrian invasion
(733-32 BCE). The area was repopulated by Gentiles (2 Kgs 17:24), and
thereafter was considered a heathen area by devout Jews in Judah in the
south. Jesus called two pair of brothers as his first disciples. Peter and
Andrew, and James and John responded "immediately" (v 20). Discipleship
was more than being instructed by the master. Jesus called his disciples
to share an intimate relationship with him, by learning from his example,
participating in his mission and being dedicated to him to the point of
death. The commitment of these first disciples was immediate and total as
they left home, family and work in order to follow Jesus. These were only
the first steps on a long and difficult road.
Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee. Matthew observed that Jesus'
fame "spread throughout all Syria" (v 24). Matthew may have written his
gospel from Syria, so this note would have been important to his readers.
Through Jesus' words and works, the restoration of all of God's people had
begun. Jesus continued the proclamation of John the Baptist to the people:
"Repent! God's kingdom has arrived!" Whoever heard his call to repent were
invited to change their lives by turning away (Hebrew, shub) from sin, and
turning toward God.
FOR REFLECTION: Have I renounced and confessed my sins? How can I
announce God's kingdom in my community?
KEY VERSE: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in
TO STUDY: The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) is a
summary of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples on various aspects of
Christian conduct. Matthew depicted Jesus as the New Moses
who went up a mountain to proclaim God’s New
Law. In the
beatitudes (5:1-12), Jesus exalted the poor, the suffering and the
persecuted. In the time of Jesus, blessings of health and material
prosperity were seen as rewards for one's righteousness and affliction was
thought to be punishment for sin. Jesus reversed human expectations of
those thought to be fortunate and
announced that true happiness was not found in wealth and power. Jesus' life exemplified every
Beatitude. He was poor (Mt 8:20), gentle and meek (11:29). He grieved over
sin and hungered and thirsted for God's justice (12:18). He was merciful
(12:16-21) and single-hearted in his desire to do God's will (26:39).
Jesus suffered persecution and died to bring about God's reign on earth
must be living signs of God's reign in order to influence the world for
good. They must be like "salt" that caused others to thirst for God.
In the ancient world salt was highly valued, so much so that it was often
used as currency ("salary"). Salt was also used to preserve meat from
corruption, and to give flavor to food. Jesus' disciples could offer an
important ingredient that added zest to peoples’ lives and help to
preserve them from evil. He also commanded his
followers to be like a lamp placed on a lampstand
to provide illumination for the whole household. When others
saw this light they would
Like Moses, Jesus taught his followers that the Law of God had lasting
validity and must be obeyed. He emphasized that
not even the tiniest flourish (yod) of the smallest letter (iota) in the
Hebrew alphabet would pass from the Law until its fulfillment in the
final age. Obeying the external "letter" of the Law was not as important as the interior
spirit of fidelity to God's purpose to bring people into proper
relationship. While murder was forbidden, Jesus also disapproved of anger,
which could lead to murder. Jesus denounced infidelity, but he also opposed
lust and permissiveness. He taught
that the marriage contract
was sacred. As with the prohibition against
murder (Mt 5:21-22), he said that sin began in
the mind and heart. If lustful thoughts ("eye") or deeds ("hand") were
occasions of sin, they should be ruthlessly eliminated. It would be better to sacrifice
passion and pleasure than to risk being destroyed in "Gehenna,"
smoldering refuse dump that was a graphic
image of eternal punishment.
The Law of Moses prohibited profaning God's name by
swearing a false oath (Lv 19:12). Some tried to avoid speaking the name of
God when taking an oath, appealing instead to heaven, earth, the Holy
city, or even their own person. Jesus said that this was comparable to
speaking the divine name since God made all these things. A simple "Yes"
or "No" made oaths unnecessary. Jesus taught that the law of love
prohibited revenge and retribution "an eye for
an eye" (Mt 5:38). He declared that anyone who had ill-will toward
another must first go and be reconciled with that person before coming to
the altar to worship God. There were no limits
to be placed on Christian forgiveness, love, and
generosity without expecting repayment.
Jesus asked his disciples to examine their motives when performing
the virtuous deeds of Jewish piety: almsgiving (Matt 6:1-4), prayer
(5-15), and fasting (16-18). While good in themselves, these works had no value if only
done to win the
approval of others. God, the
sole judge of all deeds, would reward each according to the true intentions
of the heart. Unlike the pagans who sought their god's approval by lengthy repetition,
Jesus taught his disciples to pray by offering them a
simple prayer, which has become known as "The Lord's Prayer" (Matt
6:9-13). Jesus' followers
approach God as "Abba" (Aramaic meaning "Papa") whose father knew all
their needs. God must be honored "in heaven" as the one whose reign would be
established "on earth." Just as Israel had to
rely on God to provide bread on their Exodus journey through the
wilderness (Ex 16:4,15), Jesus' disciples were to trust their Heavenly
Father for their daily needs. Because God was merciful to them, Jesus' disciples must offer
forgiveness to others. They should pray that they would not fail God in
the final test.
could not serve two masters.
They must make a choice. Would they serve the
God of heaven, or be slaves of the material goods of the earth? (Aramaic:
mammon). Jesus told his disciples not to be overly concerned about their
physical needs. By earnestly seeking to do
God's will, their Father would give them whatever they needed.
God would judge them in the same way that they judged others. He used
the analogy of trying to remove a tiny splinter from someone's eye, while
ignoring the huge plank lodged in their own. With the help of divine
light, they would clearly see their own failings and not be looking to
condemn the same or worse fault in someone else.
Jesus taught his disciples to persevere in their prayer
-- asking, seeking,
and knocking on the door of the Father's loving heart. If
his disciples would not give something
harmful to their children,
how much more would their Heavenly Father give what was best for them?
Jesus cautioned his disciples that they must do more than avoid evil;
they must do the good things for others that they would want for
themselves (the "Golden
Rule). He warned them
to be on guard against false teachers, which he
compared to ravenous wolves disguised as innocent sheep. Their teachings
might appear to be harmless, but the results were as destructive as rot in
a sound tree.
Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount by telling his disciples that it
was not enough to perform works of healing and miracles if they lived
contrary to his teachings. He used the illustration of
the construction practices of his time. A house built on a
sandy riverbed was in danger of being swept away by the floods that
followed the winter rains. Only a house whose foundations were built on
firm bed rock could withstand the storm. Christians who obeyed Christ's
teachings were building on a stable foundation, no matter what storms
What message from the Sermon on
the Mount do I most need to practice today?
MATTHEW 8 ̶
KEY VERSE: "As you go, make this proclamation: `The kingdom of
heaven is at hand'" (10:7).
TO STUDY: When Jesus finished his
Sermon on the Mount, he came down from the mountain and put his words
into action. Jesus performed ten miracles that correspond to the ten
plagues of the Exodus that vanquished Israel's enemy (Ex 7-11). These
miracles signify Jesus' assault on Satan and his establishment of God's
reign. The first miracle was the healing of the leper. In Jesus' day, a
Leper was an outcast and separated from society. Jesus came to heal and
restore the people to full membership in God's family. As Jesus entered
Capernaum, a centurion (a commander of one hundred men at a military
post), approached Jesus and asked him to heal his servant. Though Jesus'
ministry was to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt 15:24), he
consented to go with this non-Israelite. The Centurion protested that he
was unworthy to have Jesus enter his house. According to Jewish law, a
Jew could not enter the house of a Gentile since Jews considered them to
be unclean. As an officer, the Centurion knew the power of a command,
and he believed that Jesus only needed to speak a word to heal his
servant. Jesus was amazed at the man's faith, and acknowledged that many
would come from the "east and the west" (v 11), and would find a place
at the banquet in God's kingdom.
An eager scribe approached Jesus asking if he could follow him. Jesus
warned him that discipleship was a radical call that offered neither
security nor comfort. For the first time in Matthew's gospel, Jesus
referred to himself as the "Son of Man," the lowly servant who was
totally dedicated to God's will, and who would be exalted in glory (Dn
7:13). When one of Jesus' disciples asked for permission to go home and
bury his father, Jesus' answer appeared to be harsh. All who would
participate in his mission must share his total devotion to the gospel
despite the cost. Jesus warned his disciples of the perilous road that
lay ahead for those who chose to follow him (Mt 7:14). . As he and his
disciples crossed Lake Galilee, Jesus fell asleep in the boat. Suddenly,
a fierce storm threatened to capsize their small craft. The frightened
disciples cried out in alarm, "Lord, save us!" (v 25). With an
authoritative word, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples as their
Lord and Savior. He showed them who was in control in all the
circumstances they would face. Although the disciples marveled at Jesus'
power, they did not yet fully comprehend "what sort of man" (v 27) he
After Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee he and his disciples
arrived on the shore in the region of the Gadarenes (Mark 5:1 and Luke
8:26 locate this in the country of the Gerasenes). There Jesus was
confronted by two demoniacs (one in Mark and Luke's gospels). The demons
recognized Jesus as the Son of God who had come to establish God's reign
and destroy the powers of evil, and they tried to block his journey to
proclaim the gospel. Jesus sent these vile spirits into a herd of swine
(considered "unclean" by the Jews). The animals rushed headlong over a
cliff and were drowned in the sea (a symbol of destructive forces; Gn
1:1-2). However, the people were more fearful of Jesus' power than the
presence of evil, and they beseeched him to leave them.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum, some people brought a paralytic on a
stretcher to him. In Jesus' day, sickness or misfortune were seen as the
consequence of sin. Jesus looked beyond his physical infirmity, saw his
need for spiritual healing, and granted him forgiveness. The religious
leaders were scandalized by Jesus' claim to have authority over sin.
Jesus offered them proof of his power by telling the man to rise and
walk. If, according to their theology, the man's paralysis was due to
sin, and he was now cured, then his sins must have been forgiven. When
the paralytic walked, the people were amazed that God had given such
authority to human beings. The Church continues to exercise this power
of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation today.
Matthew (named "Levi" in Mark and Luke's gospels) was a publican, a
collector of taxes. He was regarded as a sinner because he cooperated
with the occupying Roman forces in the collection of taxes for the
empire. What's more, tax collectors were often accused of extorting
money from their own people. Jesus invited Matthew to follow him as a
disciple. Moreover, he accepted Matthew's invitation to dine with him
home along with many known sinners. The Pharisees, who were strict
observers of the Law of Moses, were outraged and asked Jesus to explain
his apparent disregard for their religious practices. Jesus quoted the
prophet Hosea who condemned those who pretended to act virtuously and
showed no compassion for those in need (Hos 6:6). Jesus' purpose in
coming was to call sinners to repentance. The 'sick' knew they had need
of a doctor. Those who thought they were blameless did not recognize
their need for God's mercy.
The followers of John the Baptist were curious to know why the disciples
of Jesus did not fast as they and the Pharisees did. Jesus compared his
presence among the people to a marriage feast, a sign that anticipated
the Messianic banquet in which he would be united with his bride, the
Church (Rv 19:7). Fasting and mourning were inappropriate at a wedding
as it was a time for rejoicing. When the "bridegroom was taken away" (Mt
9:15), then the people would fast. Jesus said that the old ways were
incompatible with the new. Just as a worn out garment could not be
patched and must be discarded, an old wine skin (symbolizing the old
religion) was not flexible enough to contain the new and fermenting wine
and would burst. Likewise, the new ideas that Jesus came to offer
required fresh and elastic minds.
Matthew told the story of the healing of a woman with a hemorrhage
alongside the raising to life of a young girl. A bereaved synagogue
official ("Jairus" in Mk 5:22, Lk 8:41) pleaded with Jesus to bring his
dead daughter back to life. On the way to the official's house, Jesus
was met by a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for "twelve years"
(in Mark 5:42 and Luke 8:42, Jairus' daughter was twelve years old). The
hemorrhaging woman believed that she would be healed if she could touch
the tassels on the corners of Jesus' outer garment (the fringe, in
Hebrew, tzi-tzit, was a reminder of God's Law, Nm 15:37-41). The woman's
courage and faith in Jesus restored her to full health. Arriving at the
official's house, Jesus took the dead child's hand (the dead were also
considered "unclean," Nm 19:11) and "the little girl arose," a sign of
new life that Jesus would offer in the resurrection. Next, two blind men
cried out to Jesus for a healing, calling him by the Messianic title
"Son of David. Jesus asked, "Do you believe that I can do this?" They
responded with faith in his healing power. Jesus cured their blindness,
but warned them not to tell others as they might misunderstand his
mission as mere "wonder-working." In their enthusiasm, the men could not
restrain themselves from speaking of this astounding miracle.
The healing of a possessed mute is the last miracle in a series of ten
(Ch 8-9). Everywhere Jesus went, in the towns, villages and synagogues,
the good news of the kingdom was ushered in through Jesus' words and
works. While the crowds looked on Jesus with wonder, the religious
leaders, who should have welcomed the appearance of God's reign,
rejected Jesus' works believing that he was in league with the powers of
evil. Their eyes were so blinded by their own ideas of God's power that
they could not see the truth that was present in Jesus. The people were
without spiritual leadership, and Jesus' heart was moved with
compassion. He urged his disciples to pray that others would participate
in the harvest of the gathering of souls.
Jesus chose twelve men to be his "apostles," ones who are sent to carry
on his work by announcing the good news of God's reign. This reign was
made manifest in the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead, and
by driving out all evil. The Twelve received God's gift without meriting
it. That which was given freely, must be shared generously with others.
As they went forth, they were to trust in God's providence, taking only
the barest essentials, and depending on the hospitality of others. Jesus
was aware that his message would not be accepted by everyone, and he
exhorted the twelve apostles to have courage under persecution. He
warned them that members of their own families might be their
adversaries. Those who wished to follow in Jesus' footsteps, must be
willing to put the gospel before all else -- even their own lives.
Though they stood in danger of death, they should not be afraid. Rather,
they should fear the evil one who could lead them to eternal
destruction. Jesus reminded his followers of their worth before God. If
God was aware of the death of a tiny sparrow, were not their lives worth
more? If the apostles were faithful in their task, Jesus would defend
them on the day of judgment.
Pray for missionaries
whose lives may be endangered by preaching the gospel.
Am I as courageous in proclaiming God's Word?
MATTHEW 11 ̶
KEY VERSE: "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven
is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old"
Jesus was aware that his message would not be
accepted by everyone, and he exhorted the twelve apostles to have
courage under persecution. Those who wished to follow in his footsteps,
must be willing to put the gospel before all else ̶ even
their own lives. They must be prepared to be treated like the prophets
of old who suffered for proclaiming God's word. John the Baptist came in
the tradition of Elijah the great prophet who suffered because of his
righteous commitment to the truth. Jesus' acknowledged John's privileged
place in God's saving plan, but John belonged to the old order that was
passing away. Although John stood at the threshold of God's kingdom, the
humblest member of the new era would be greater than John. Throughout
the ages, the reign of God was assaulted by those who rejected the
prophetic voice. Jesus compared these unbelievers to spoiled children
that no one could hope to satisfy. He recited a little verse that
appeared in Aesop's fables (6th century before Christ) "We played the
flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn"
(Matt 11:16-17). While those who opposed John did so because of his
austere, ascetic life-style, they rejected Jesus because of his
association with sinners and outcasts. Divine wisdom would vindicate the
works of Jesus the Messiah and his herald John who had been imprisoned
by Herod Antipas.
Jesus grieved over the "the wise and the learned" (v 25) people of
Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum who were indifferent to the miracles
he wrought there and persisted in their unbelief. By contrast, Jesus
praised God from the depths of his heart for having revealed the
mysteries of the kingdom to simple people who accepted his teaching with
childlike faith. The religious leaders had made it difficult for the
unlearned to approach God because of the crushing weight they laid on
them by complicating God's Law with endless rules. They made no effort
to lighten the load of these obligations, and often neglected the true
purpose of the Law themselves. Jesus invited all those who were burdened
by the Law to come to him and accept his yoke, which was easy. By taking
on the light yoke of obedience to his word, Jesus' followers would not
chafe under the Law, but find peace and rest from all that oppressed
them (v 28).
As Jesus continued his journey, the Pharisees accused his disciples of
violating the sabbath law by doing manual labor. By plucking the corn
they were guilty of reaping; by rubbing it in their hands they were
guilty of threshing and by separating the grain from the chaff they were
guilty of winnowing. Furthermore, the whole process constituted
preparing a meal, another violation of the sabbath law. In defense of
his disciples, Jesus cited the example of David who fed his hungry men
with the "bread of offering" usually reserved for priests (1 Sm 21:4-7).
He also argued that priests did not incur guilt by preparing the
offering of the lambs on the sabbath (Nm 28:9). Jesus was the "Son of
Man" who liberated God's people who were laboring so long under the
burdens of a restrictive law. When Jesus cured a man on the sabbath
(12:9-13), the religious leaders plotted to put Jesus to death. Matthew
quoted Isaiah (Is 42:1-4) to show that Jesus fulfilled the role of God's
When the religious leaders heard the crowds acclaiming Jesus, they
ascribed his work to "Beelzebul, the prince of demons" (the pagan god
Baal of Syria). Jesus pointed out the absurdity of this by making three
comparisons. First, if Satan was working against himself, then his
kingdom would surely fall. Second, if exorcists cast out demons, then by
what power did they do so? Lastly, Jesus said that he was the strongman
who overpowered evil and pillaged Satan's household. Jesus said that
every blasphemy would be forgiven save that of attributing the good
works of the Spirit to the Evil One. Such persons could not be forgiven,
because they placed themselves outside of the mercy of God. The scribes
and Pharisees demanded evidence to prove that Jesus' works came from God
and not the evil one (v 24). Jesus said that it was the religious
leaders who were "evil," since they preferred a religion of legalism to
one that made moral demands of them. Jesus told them that the people of
Jonah's day repented because of the prophet's preaching, not because of
signs and wonders. Likewise, the Queen of Sheba sought Solomon's wisdom,
not his magic (1 Kgs 10:1-10). Jesus was greater than either Jonah or
Solomon, yet the people refused to believe in him. The only sign he
would give these faithless ones was the "Sign of Jonah," the three days
Jonah spent in the belly of the whale (Jon 2), which was a portent of
Jesus' death and resurrection.
Jesus' opponents stubbornly refused to believe in him. While addressing
the crowds, his mother and "brothers" came to see him. The word
"brothers" did not imply that Mary had other children. The Hebrew word
'ach, "brother," can mean "kinsmen," varying degrees of blood
relationship (see Gn 13:8; Lv 10:4), persons of common ancestry, members
of the same tribe or clan (Nm 16:10), and even of the same nation (Dt
15:12). The Greek word adelphos had a similar connotation. Jesus
used this opportunity to declare who were the true members of his
spiritual family. It was not physical relationship that made one a
"brother" or "sister" of Jesus, but doing God's will. Jesus was the
"firstborn of many brothers" who had become children of God by faith (Ro
Chapter 13 of Matthew's gospel is Jesus' third sermon. It consists
almost entirely of parables. The word "parable" (Hebrew, mashal) can
mean a variety of literary forms: similes, axioms, proverbs and
allegories. Jesus' parables were primarily stories that invited the
hearer to search for the meaning of Christian truths he was teaching. In
the parable of the sower, Jesus referred to the planting methods
employed in Palestine of his day. As it was necessary to sow seed on
rocky and unproductive soil, a great deal of the farmer's efforts were
wasted and the crop was only moderately successful. Jesus compared this
to his task of proclaiming God's word.
Jesus explained the parable of the sower to his disciples. The different
types of soil depicted various responses to his proclamation of God's
reign. The seed sown on the pathway represented those who heard the
message, but never accepted it in their hearts. The evil one robbed them
of what was sown. The seed sown on rocky ground were those who heard the
word with enthusiasm, but they quickly fell away when persecution or
trials occurred. The seed sown among thorns were those who believed for
a while, but the lure of riches and worldly concerns choked the life out
of their faith. The seed that was sown on fertile soil were his
followers, the "rich soil" that would produce abundant fruit. He
encouraged them to persevere in their task no matter how few accepted
their message or rewarded them for their labor.
The parable of the weeds among the wheat is a story of good and evil in
the world. The weed in the story was darnel, a poisonous plant that
looked very much like wheat when it was young. So it is with evil; it is
difficult to detect in its early stages until it grows strong and
destroys what is good. But to pull up the weeds before the wheat matured
endangered its immature roots. Jesus said that both the weeds and the
wheat should be allowed to flourish until the harvest when the testing
of time would separate error from truth. The parables of the mustard
seed and yeast taught his followers about the paradoxical nature of
God's reign, which Jesus described as having amazing growth from
insignificant beginnings. Though very tiny, the mustard seed grew into a
luxuriant plant where birds could find a home in its branches. In like
manner, a tiny bit of leaven hidden in an enormous amount of flour (50
lbs) expanded the dough to produce enough bread to feed a hundred
people. God's kingdom is a process. Although a Christian's work may seem
unimportant, even a small effort moves the kingdom toward fulfillment.
Jesus also compared God's work to a dragnet cast into the sea, which
brought forth both the "worthwhile" and the "useless." Likewise, God's
judgment would ultimately reveal what is good and evil in the world.
Jesus' disciples must be like wise scribes (the teachers of the
traditions of Judaism) who were able to understand things both "new and
old" (13:52, some scholars see this as Matthew's personal
signature). As future leaders of the church, they must be able to interpret the ancient truths in the
light of the gospel. When Jesus was assured that his disciples understood his message, he
to move on in his journey.
FOR REFLECTION: Am I able to discern truth
from falsehood in the messages of the world? Do I
heed God's Word and the
teachings of the Church?