WelCom June 2017: This year is Year A of the Liturgical Cycle, in which we are following the Gospel of Matthew on Sundays during Ordinary Time. In her series of articles for WelCom Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm addresses some basic questions about Matthew’s gospel to show how it is relevant to our lives today.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (11:28) invites Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. This Jesus is moved with compassion – we might say ‘gutted’ – at the plight of the blind men (20:34) and the harassed and helpless crowds (Matt 9:36; 14:14). Out of this same compassion Jesus multiplies loaves and fishes (Matt 15:32). But what more can we say about him?
Last month I looked at four structural outlines of Matthew’s Gospel while noting the reassuring structural frame, that is, the guarantee of God’s abiding presence (1:23; 18:19-20; 28:20). At one point within that framework the disciples ask, ‘What sort of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?’ (8:27). Later Jesus asks them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (16:15).
I will present some of Matthew’s answers in this month’s column with more to come next month.
Looking through the gospel we learn Jesus is raised in Nazareth (2:23; 21:11; 26:71), the ‘son of the carpenter’ and a mother called Mary, with sisters and brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (13:56-56). He moves from Nazareth to Capernaum (4:13), which becomes his own city (9:1), the place where he has a house (9:10, 28; 12:46; 13:1, 36; 17:25).
But wait there’s more. Matthew is up front. He tells us at the outset that Jesus is ‘the Christ (Messiah), the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (1:1). A little later, at the baptism, Jesus is the Son of God (3:17). Much ink has been spilled over each title. However, for our purposes it’s sufficient to note Matthew describes in three stages: the origin and preparation of Israel’s Messiah (1:1-4:22); the teaching and healing ministry of the compassionate Son of David (4:23-19:2); and the death and resurrection of the Son of God (19:3-28:20).
Being the most general of Matthew’s major titles, context determines its meaning. Sometimes it means the ‘Coming One’ (11:2-3) or the ‘King of the Jews (2:2, 4) or ‘Son of God’ (16:16, 20: 26:63, 68). Jack Kingsbury suggests that the title summarily characterises Jesus as God’s anointed, the King and Shepherd of Israel (2:2, 4, 6). By the Messiah’s coming the long history of Israel, begun in Abraham, comes to its fulfilment (1:1-17). His ministry will result in either salvation (11:2-6) or condemnation (3:11-12).
Son of David
This is one of Matthew’s favourite titles. He uses it to stress Jesus’ role as the Davidic Messiah sent to Israel and to emphasise Israel’s guilt for not accepting him. Jesus heals outcasts, for example, two blind men and the Canaanite woman, who acclaim him as ‘Son of David’ (9:27; 15:21-22; 20:30-31), as do the crowds as Jesus enters Jerusalem (21:9), and the children in the temple (21:15). Meanwhile this title provokes hostility from others (12:24, 21:16).
Son of Abraham
This title stresses Jesus’ Jewish heritage, particularly important for Matthew’s Jewish Christians. Jesus is Son of Abraham because in him the entire history of Israel beginning with Abraham reaches its goal (1:18), and because it is through Jesus that God will extend salvation to all the nations (8:11; 28:18-20). While Jesus as Son of David is the one in whom Israel will find blessing, Jesus as Son of Abraham is the one in whom Gentiles will find blessing.
Son of God
Matthew’s most significant title for Jesus occurs in each major section of the gospel, confirming his divine authority. While Mark (1:11) and Luke (3:22) report God’s assurance to Jesus at his baptism in the second person, ‘You’, Matthew publicly declares, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’ (3:17). Matthew has already made this clear in the Infancy Narrative (1:18-25; 2:15). Interestingly, Brendan Byrne suggests that a baptismal gospel account should be read at every baptism since all the baptised can claim that same divine assurance.
Jesus refers to himself as Son (11:25-27) and the disciples acknowledge him as Son of God when he appears to them walking on the water (14:33), as does Peter at Caesarea Philippi (16:13-20). The voice from heaven in the transfiguration account declares Jesus as ‘my beloved Son’ (17:1-8). In the garden Jesus prays, ‘My Father’ (26:39, 42) and mockers challenge his identity as Son of God (27:40, 43). The high priest, Caiaphas, tries to make Jesus admit to this identity (26:63) but it is the centurion and those with him who confess Jesus as God’s Son (27:54).
Throughout the gospel, Matthew makes very clear the correct response to this Jesus is to worship him – kneel before him – like the Magi (2:2), the leper (8:2), the centurion (9:18), the disciples (14:33), the mother of James and John (20:20), the women after the resurrection (28:9), and the disciples on the hill in Galilee (28:17).
Finally, as well as Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham and Son of God, Matthew also describes Jesus as Son of Man, Lord, servant, teacher and healer, interpreter and fulfilment of the law, and the one who withdraws. I will discuss these next month. In the meantime, I suggest you take some time to allow Matthew’s Jesus, whose very name means saviour, to ask you the question he asks his disciples, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (16:15). You may find that you want to kneel before – worship him.
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 (second edition). 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? (revised edition.) New York: Paulist Press.
Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm is a Lecturer and Distance Education Coordinator at The Catholic Institute of Aotearoa (TCI).