The latest issue of Bible Today, published by the Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey and edited by Fr. Donald Senior, CP is devoted to the Gospel of Matthew, which is read at Sunday Mass this year.
Matthew’s Gospel depends on Mark’s Gospel, the first of the four gospels to be written. One question the writers in Bible Today try to answer is: Why did the community represented in Matthew’s gospel look for the Good News in another form? Why didn’t they simply use what was written in Mark?
Obviously, there were needs in Matthew’s community that called for something else about Jesus to be told. Mark’s gospel sees Jesus as a powerful worker of miracles and cures. Matthew’s gospel sees him as a powerful teacher. As he begins his ministry, he goes up a mountain and gathers disciples around him and begins to teach them.
His “Sermon on the Mount” doesn’t take place in the synagogues of Galilee. In the church Matthew represents, the disciples of Jesus are being driven out of the synagogues, as the temple officials, the pharisees and other Jewish authorities have come to Galilee to reconstitute traditional Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD.
By the year 90 AD, about when Matthew is written, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth seem to be losing the battle in the villages and cities of the area to a strong smart opposition who are questioning the credentials of a carpenter from Nazareth and of a movement led by fishermen and tax-collectors.
Matthew’s gospel sees Jesus “in the chair of Moses,” on a mountainside, and his disciples are to look to him as their teacher.
“You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world,” Jesus says to these disciples. Perhaps we can hear those words directed to disciples who are questioning whether they’re in the right place as they experience diminishment and power slipping away. The old leaders are gone; their “golden age” is over.
Still, “you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.”
Not a bad message for us today.