Quick question, what is your history with the Gospel of Matthew? For some reading this blog, you have images of Matthew being the one to tell us about the Wise Ones coming to visit Jesus or you might think of Matthew as being the gospel where parables end with people being "thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth." Such an uplifting way to end a story. Or maybe you don't have any preconceived images of Matthew. Perhaps it is not a book you've spent much time with in your life.
The church I serve is starting on a journey of reading Matthew and over the coming months I am going to make comments on passages that I am not preaching on in worship on this blog. My hope and prayer is that over the coming months through sermons and posts you might become better acquainted with Matthew (who is depicted in the icon above through the imagination of an artist...while it is not a selfie, it is one way of giving Matthew a face).
Matthew is the first of the four gospels in the New Testament, but only in sequence not chronologically. Since Matthew did not date his gospel, scholars need to make best guesses. In seminary, I was taught Matthew wrote in the 70 A.D. or Common Era (CE). In the reading I've done recently for preaching on Matthew, scholars is now pushed back to the 80s or even 90s CE. Why does it matter? We think that the Gospel of Mark is the first to be written. Mark is the shortest gospel and the most succinct, straight forward, no nonsense. Scholars propose that Matthew and Luke each had a copy of Mark on their desks as they wrote because both use Mark's structure with embellishments. Matthew also has some unique stories none of the other three gospels have (e.g. the story of the Wise Ones visiting Jesus). Luke has unique stories (e.g. Parable of the Prodigal son). But then Matthew and Luke have stories that neither Mark nor John have (e.g. the Lord's Prayer or the Beatitudes). So, in addition to having Mark and some unique stories, scholars suggest that Matthew and Luke had a source known as "Q", which was a collection of sayings. Click here to read more about "Q"
Matthew also has a brilliant way of structuring his gospel. He alternates narrative/stories about Jesus and speeches/sermons Jesus gave. Here is how that looks:
Chapters 1-4 is narrative about beginnings of Jesus' life
Chapters 5-7 is speech/sermon Jesus gives
Chapters 8-9 is narrative about Jesus (particularly healing)
Chapter 10 is a speech/sermon about discipleship
Chapters 11-12 is narrative about rejection of Jesus by his generation
Chapter 13 is a speech/sermon about the realm of heaven on earth
Chapters 14-17 is narrative about recognition by disciples
Chapter 18 is a speech/sermon about life in Christian community
Chapters 19-22 is a narrative about authority and invitation
Chapters 23-25 is a speech/sermon about present trouble and God's future
Chapters 26-28 is a narrative about new beginnings/resurrection
One final layer we can peel away to discover something beautiful is that for Matthew Jesus is the NEW Moses. Legend had it that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (Genesis - Deuteronomy). Five books...Jesus gives five speeches. We will see other ways Jesus' life echoes Moses in coming posts.
For now, I pray that the above information is helpful for framing the coming posts about Matthew. I pray that these first days of January are a blessing and you sensing traces of God's grace in your life.
God's blessings and pax (peace) to you!