This weekend we begin a new liturgical season, and we will hear a new cycle of readings (Cycle A) in which the Gospel is taken predominantly from Matthew.
Modern scholarship (including the “Jerome Biblical Commentary” and the introduction to the Gospels in the New American Bible) indicates that the anonymous author we have identified as St. Matthew wrote his narrative somewhere between 75 and 85 A.D. in Antioch or another city in Syria. We date his Gospel to a time after St. Mark’s account (Matthew draws heavily on Mark’s Gospel), and after, but close to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. The author has much content not found in Mark.
The numerous references to the Old Testament seem to indicate that the Jewish Christians of his day were Matthew’s primary audience. He quotes extensively from the prophets because his readers knew the Scriptures and would make the connections. In the parables and the events he describes, we hear and see examples of how obedience to God’s will can be expressed in our day.
Matthew begins his narrative with the genealogy of Jesus that takes us back 14 generations to King David and then 14 more generations back to Abraham. Matthew follows this royal lineage through the family of Joseph, unlike the genealogy of St. Luke who traces Jesus’ ancestry through Mary.
Throughout his Gospel, Matthew demonstrates that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah who announces and inaugurates the coming of the Kingdom. This Kingdom, described by Isaiah in the next three weeks, will not be a dissolution of the world, but the coming of a new age, a time of peace and harmony. Matthew is the only evangelist who uses “kingdom of heaven” rather than “Kingdom of God” because devout Jews at the time avoided reference to the name of God.
As we hear the Scriptures of the Advent Sundays, we want to listen for the following:
– Isaiah’s vision of the “days to come,” inaugurated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus;
– A call to “be alert and prepared,” for “our salvation is nearer” than when we first came to believe;
– The prophetic message and ministry of John the Baptist, who calls us to conversion;
– Key references to the Old Testament: This week we hear Jesus’ reference to the time of Noah and the flood (Gn. 6:5-7); next week is the description of John as Isaiah’s “voice crying in the desert, ‘prepare the way of the Lord’” (Is 40:3). On the third Sunday we hear Jesus describe John as the messenger promised by the Prophet Malachi (Mal 3:1), and in the fourth week, the description of the birth of Jesus, referencing Is 7:14.
Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization and Worship.