WelCom July 2017: In her series of articles during this Year A of the Liturgical Calendar, which follows the Gospel of Matthew on Sundays during Ordinary Time, Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm addresses some basic questions about Matthew’s gospel to show how it is relevant to our lives today.
Over the past few months I have addressed some of the basic ‘who, what, where, when, why and how’ questions concerning the Gospel of Matthew. Last month, as an answer to the ‘what’ of Matthew’s gospel, I looked at Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as Messiah, son of David, son of Abraham and Son of God. Matthew also describes Jesus as Son of Man, teacher and healer, interpreter and fulfilment of the law, and the one who withdraws. These descriptors will be the focus of this month’s article.
Son of Man
Matthew uses this title for Jesus 30 times in many different contexts: Jesus’ authority to forgive sins (9:6), his servanthood (20:28), his friendship with sinners (11:19), as ‘Lord of the sabbath’ (12:8), as suffering, dying, rising servant (17:12, 22; 20:18, 26:2), as final judge coming in glory (10:23; 13:41; 16:27-28; 19:28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31). Some see the title as a more ‘public’ title than others such as Son of God and Son of David which are more’ confessional’. Meaning ‘this man’, it describes Jesus’ relation to the world, Israel first and then the Gentiles and how he interacts with the crowds and his opponents.
Teacher and healer
Matthew portrays Jesus as both teacher and healer. Matthew’s summary description, ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people’ (4:23), begins a lengthy teaching section – the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7). This is followed by Jesus’ healing ministry (Chapters 8-9). Here Matthew shows us Jesus as the compassionate Son of David healing a leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, the Garadene demoniacs, the paralytic, the dead girl, the hemorrhaging woman, the blind men and the mute. Matthew then repeats the summary description (9:35).
Jesus the healer
As well as the Sermon on the Mount Matthew collects, as evidence of Jesus’ teaching ministry, other speeches of Jesus into four extended sermons: the Mission Sermon (Chapter 10), the Sermon in Parables (Chapter 13), the Sermon on the Church (Chapter 18) and the Sermon on the End Times (Chapters 24–25).
Various characters, for example a scribe, some Pharisees, tax collectors, a rich young man and some Sadducees, refer to Jesus as teacher: 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; 17:24; 19:16; 22:16, 24, 36. Jesus refers to himself as teacher (10:24-25) and again when warning his disciples and the crowds about the danger of practising the exhibitionist behaviour of some of the Pharisees.
Interpreter and fulfilment of the Law
Matthew portrays Jesus as the authoritative and definitive interpreter of the Law as well as the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets. In six antithetical statements (5:21-48) Jesus quotes from the Law, making an addition each time by saying ‘but I say to you, …’. In 40 of his 61 Old Testament quotations, Matthew claims that the passage has been fulfilled in Jesus. Matthew’s Jesus is often described as the ‘New Moses’ because of the many allusions to Moses throughout, for example, a wicked king plotting to kill a child who is then rescued through divine intervention, Egypt, instruction from a mountain, etc. It is said that Matthew has draped Jesus in the familiar cloak of Moses so that he can be the full bearer of God’s authority.
The one who withdraws
Last year Pope Francis highlighted a key aspect of Jesus’ identity emphasised by Matthew: ‘I want mercy not sacrifice’ (9:13; 12:7). Byrne, points out that this means mercy before sacrifice as Jesus earlier suggests in his teaching about the need for reconciliation (5:23). The beatitude ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matt 5:7) clearly connects the receiving of mercy with being merciful to others. We see this also in the parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:31-46).
There is much more that could be said about Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus but next month’s column will continue to address the ‘what’ by focusing on Matthew’s portrayal of Mary and perhaps how she got from there to the Assumption painting on my wall. In the meantime I suggest you spend some time with the parable of the Sheep and Goats.
Byrne, B (2004). Lifting the burden: Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the church today. Strathfield, NSW: St Paul’s Publications.
Kingsbury, JD (1988). Matthew as story. (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Perkins, P (2011). Who is Jesus? Matthew’s Christology. The Bible Today, 49(1), 11‒16.
Reid, BE (2005). The gospel according to Matthew (Vol. 1). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
Senior, D (1996). What are they saying about Matthew? (rev. ed.) New York: Paulist Press.
Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm is a Lecturer and Distance Education Co-ordinator at the Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand.