Tag Archives: Matthew’s gospel

Matthew, the tax collector


Jews  usually turned away when they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But look at our gospel for today:

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. Tax collectors had to be good at keeping books. Was Matthew’s task to keep memories? Did he remember some things that were especially related his world?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out the man in the tree to Jesus, a tax collector like himself, who brought them all to his house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

Pope Francis said he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

Parables of the Kingdom

Net cast into the Sea

The 11th and 12th chapters of Matthew’s gospel, which we’re reading this week at Mass, describe the growing opposition to Jesus as he preaches and performs miracles in Galilee.

Not only do the Pharisees begin to oppose him and plot to put him to death, but the towns where he’s been–Capernaum, Corazin–seem to forget him. Those chapters end with another source of opposition that may surpise us. His own family from Nazareth seems to misunderstand him. It’s a dark part of Matthew’s gospel.

Jesus answers this opposition in chapter 13 in a series of parables. He begins with the parable of the sower sowing his seed. The seed doesn’t always fall on good ground, he reminds his disciples. Sometimes it falls on the path where it quickly dries up– like the  towns that welcome him enthusiastically and soon forget him.

The parable of the weeds and the wheat points to enemies who want to poison the power and beauty of his words and deeds because of their  own claims.  The Pharisees did that.

The kingdom of God comes in smallness. It’s like the mustard seed, not a full grown tree. You can miss it if  you’re looking for something fully grown and done. The treasure is hidden in a field; you may discover  almost accidentally. Maybe Jesus’ own extended family in Nazareth still saw him as just the little boy they knew before and could not appreciate him now. We underestimate small things and  what they can grow to be.

But the kingdom of heaven is also like a merchant in search of fine pearls. You have to keep searching for it all your life. You can’t give up that search. Keep looking, hoping searching.

Jesus concludes his teaching with the parable of the net cast into the sea that catches fish of every kind, good and bad. At the end of time, the net will be dragged to shore and the good will be separated from the bad.

His parables are about the real world, the world Jesus experienced. They also give us a good  template to look at the world we live in, which is not far from his.

How Bad Can It Get

The Disciples’ Unbelief

The gospel is supposed to be life at its best, but it also presents life at its worst. What’s worse than being a lamb among wolves? Than living with people who don’t support you and in fact hate you? Than having people beat you with whips? Than having your own brothers and sisters turn against you? Than having people throw you out of town?

Can it get worse than that? You’ll experience all these things, Jesus says in today’s gospel to the Twelve and those who go out with them.

Today’s gospel from Matthew is part of the commissioning of disciples whom Jesus sends as heralds of the kingdom of heaven. They have power to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and drive out demons.” Great powers. But that’s not all. They must exercise these powers in the real world.

We can’t forget we live in the real world that Jesus describes in today’s gospel. His way of living in this world is unique. He doesn’t send out armed divisions or powerful super salespeople, but vulnerable lambs. Yet, his lambs are stronger than wolves. Don’t be awed by governors and kings or crushed by adversity or rejection, Jesus says. Just listen to the “Spirit of your Father speaking in you,” and you’ll have wisdom enough.

Even if you’re thrown out of one town, another town waits for the coming of the Son of Man. The real world is not as strong as it seems.

St. Joseph

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Readings

“Each year Jesus’ parents went up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and when he was twelve years old they went up according to festival custom.” Luke 2,41

At twelve, Jesus entered a new stage in life – his “Bar Mitzvah,” when he took on the responsibilities of the law, which later he summarized as: “Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart…Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Who led him to that new stage? It had to be Joseph and Mary. Matthew’s Gospel gives Joseph a major role in Jesus’ birth. He provides Jesus with a genealogy going back to Abraham. He’s told by the angel not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; he shouldn’t divorce her as Jewish law called for, and he should name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”

After the visit of the Magi, Joseph was directed to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Then, the angel tells him to return to Israel with them after Herod’s death. Finally, he makes a home in Nazareth in Galilee, where his family would be safer away from Herod’s heir, Archelaus, who ruled in Judea.

Clearly, according to Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is an important figure in the birth and early life of Jesus Christ. Then, he silently disappears from the gospels. There’s no record of his role at Nazareth or his death.

The gospel calls Joseph an “upright” man. He was upright because, like his neighbors at Nazareth, he observed all the Jewish laws. But not from lip service. Joseph firmly believed in his heart in the God of Israel, who loved all things great and small, yes, even Nazareth and a humble carpenter.

An inward man, Joseph saw in the simple, ordinary world about him more than others saw. His neighbor casting seed on the family field he loved – wasn’t God’s passionate love for the land of Israel like that? Even as he built a village house or a table, his thoughts sometimes turned to another world: was not God building a kingdom for his people?

An inward man, Joseph saw beyond the fields and mountains of the small town of Nazareth, but he said little about his inmost dreams to others. A quiet man, he kept his own counsel.

Jesus, the Son of God, was known through his earthly life as Jesus, the son of Joseph, “the carpenter’s son.” Growing up as children do, he naturally would acquire some of Joseph’s traits, perhaps the way he walked and spoke.

From Joseph, Jesus first learned about the people of the village, their sorrows and their joys. He saw his love for Mary and the people of his village. As a child Jesus learned from him how to use a carpenter’s tools and began to work at his side. The rabbis said: A father who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to steal.

The two were constant companions at the synagogue in Nazareth. Together they celebrated regularly the great Jewish feasts, listened to the Scriptures, and journeyed as pilgrims to Jerusalem.

Jesus must have seen in Joseph a simple, holy man who trusted God with all his heart. Someone like Joseph, so unassuming, so steady, so quietly attentive to God, was like a treasure hidden in a field. He could easily go unrecognized.

Later, would Jesus remember lessons and tell stories he learned earlier at Nazareth from Joseph, the carpenter?

Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

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Readings
In Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7, Jesus speaks to his disciples from a mountain, a place Moses once chose to speak to the Jews. From a mountain Jesus now speaks God’s revelation to a wider world. Yet, the words he speaks from here are loyal to Jewish traditions and laws that Moses taught. He’s not abolishing them. Jesus came “not to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

First, remember them. That’s what the Jewish scriptures tell us to do. “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Second, practice them, from the greatest of the commandments to the least. Lent leads us to great thoughts and great visions of faith, but this season reminds us to remember small things as well. “A cup of cold water,” a prisoner, someone sick visited, someone naked clothed, someone hungry fed, “a word to the weary to rouse them.”

The law of God often comes down to small things like these. They’re always at hand, readily available. They’re within our power to do, and the greatest in the kingdom of God are best at doing them.

Friday, 2nd Week of Lent

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Readings

Rejection is a special kind of pain. Matthew’s gospel today describes the rejection Jesus experienced when he entered Jerusalem before his death. At first, he’s acclaimed by a large crowd as “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” They spread their cloaks and cast branches before him. “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Then, Jesus goes into the temple and drives out those who were buying and selling there, a symbolic act that indicates he has come to restore this place of prayer. (Matthew 21, 1-18)

Reacting strongly, the Jewish leaders reject him and question his authority to do such things. He has been sent by God, Jesus says, and responds with a parable that condemns leaders like them who reject prophets sent by God.

Jesus remains convinced of his mission, but conviction does not insulate him from the pain that comes from rejection. Like the prophets before him he suffers from it, and his suffering only increases as the crowds that first acclaimed him fall silent and his own disciples deny and abandon him. All turn against him and he is alone.

The events described in today’s gospel and the parable Jesus told throw light on one suffering Jesus endured in his passion and death¬– rejection. Rejection and death will not be the last word, however: “the stone rejected by the builders will become the cornerstone.”

You went to Jerusalem, Lord,

to announce a kingdom come

a promise of God fulfilled.

a hope beyond any the mind could conceive.

Teach us to keep your dream alive

though we see it denied.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Friday is a traditional day. for remembering the Passion of Jesus

Stations of the Cross:   Video  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waaMOBJ5e1Q&list=PLLUFZUgOPMFxkmfgBNS4Kfm8XxEwoAd6f&index=11

Stations of the Cross; Text    https://passionofchrist.us/stations-adults/ 

Stations of the Cross for Children: https://passionofchrist.us/stations-of-the-cross-children/

Prayers :  https://passionofchrist.us/prayers/

What You Find in the First Week of Advent

The daily Advent readings at Mass for the first week of Advent are beautifully arranged..

In the Old Testament readings,  the Prophet Isaiah speaks as a fierce Assyrian army heads towards Jerusalem. Bad times ahead, but the prophet sees something else. All nations are streaming to God’s mountain.

The nations will come to God’s mountain, Jerusalem, where the temple stands, the prophet says.  They’ll be fed a rich banquet (Wednesday),  the poor will triumph (Thursday),  the blind will see (Friday). Safe on this rock, children play around the cobra’s den, and the lion and the lamb lie down together (Tuesday). The prophet  challenges us to see our world in another way.

In the gospels  Jesus Christ fulfills the Isaian prophecies. The Roman centurion, humbly approaching Jesus in Capernaum, represents all nations approaching him. (Monday)  Jesus praises the childlike;  they will enter the kingdom of heaven.(Tuesday)  He feeds a multitude on the mountain.(Wednesday) His kingdom is built on rock.(Thursday)  He gives sight to the blind to find their way.  (Friday)

Many Advent readings in these early weeks of Advent are from the gospel of Matthew, who portrays Jesus teaching on a mountain (Isaiah’s favorite symbol). His miracles affect all. Jesus is the new temple, the Presence of God, Emmanuel, God with us. He brings hope beyond human hope.

Lord, help us see what you and the prophets see.

The Journey to Jerusalem

Jesus begins to set out for Jerusalem in today’s reading at Mass from the 10th chapter of Mark’s gospel. Matthew offers a similar account in the 19th and 20th chapters of his gospel.

Jesus doesn’t go to Jerusalem alone, he invites others to go with him. It’s a journey to resurrection and life and more than a couple of days, but as they hear Jesus describe the way to Jerusalem, people react like people do,

You can’t miss human weakness in the journey stories of Mark’s and Matthew’s gospel, beginning with the Pharisees. I suppose they represent human doubt and questioning that’s always there. The disciples rebuked the women bringing their children forJesus’ blessing, and Jesus rebukes them. Be like children to make the journey, Jesus tells them.

The rich young man wants to hold on to what he has, so he goes away sad. Peter says proudly he’ s given up everything to follow Jesus, but we know how inconstant he is. The story of the brothers, James and John, is obviously a story of human ambition.

1 Hundred Guilder Print
Rembrandt Hundred Guilder Print

Matthew offers Mark’s stories in chapter 19 and 20 of his gospel. The artist Rembrandt drew a remarkable picture of the 19th and 20th chapter of Matthew called the Hundred Guilder Print.

Jesus stands at the center of Rembrandt’s work, bathed in light, his hands outstretched to the crowds before him.

Peter stands at Jesus right, close by. Other disciples, probably James and John, are next to him. Women and their children, whom the disciples told to go away, are next to them. The rich young man is also there in the crowd. Is he reconsidering?

Some of the enemies of Jesus who plotted against him and argued with him are also there, talking among themselves, but they’re still in the picture. Rembrandt even pictures the camel, back by the city gates.

Jesus sheds his light on them all. His arms are open to them all. Rembrandt has it right. Grace is more powerful than human weakness. It’s everywhere.

Following Jesus Christ in Lent

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Lent is coming. Let’s join those disciples in our picture above following Jesus. One way to follow him is by reflecting on the lenten scriptural readings recommended for the Sundays and weekdays till Easter. They’re the basic book for lenten reading.

On the 1st Sunday of Lent, this coming Sunday, Mark’s gospel takes us to the Jordan River where Jesus is led into a deserted place by the Spirit and tempted for 40 days after his baptism. Our journey  begins  in a desert. Readings from Mark’s Gospel lead us through the Sundays of Lent this year.

The weekday gospels for the first three weeks of lent are mostly from Matthew, the early church’s favorite gospel for catechesis during Lent. They bring us to Galilee where Jesus began his ministry. Most are from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks “the words of eternal life.”  (Matthew 5-7) Be faithful to prayer and you will grow in wisdom, Jesus says.  ( Tuesday and Thursday, 1st week of Lent)  Love your neighbor, even your enemies and “the least,” whom we easily overlook. ( Monday, Friday, Saturday, 1st week of Lent)

Peter’s confession at Caesaria Phillipi is the highpoint of the first part of Matthew’s gospel. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter says to Jesus. “You have the words of everlasting life.” Lent invites us to join him in that same confession.

But can we possibly love and believe that way, so lofty and challenging? We’re rather weak disciples. The reading for Saturday after Ash Wednesday reminds us, though, that Jesus doesn’t call perfect disciples. He called  Matthew the tax collector and people like him–not very good keepers of the law. Outsiders and sinners like them welcome us to the lenten season. (Luke 5, 27-32)

Matthew’s gospel takes us up the Mount of the Beatitudes. Like most sacred writers, Matthew likes mountains. You see ahead  more clearly from them. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we go up to the Mount of the Transfiguration to glimpse the  glory found ahead.

By the 4th week of Lent,  we arrive  in the Holy City, Jerusalem, to the temple mount and  then the Mount of Calvary. Starting with the 4th week most of the weekday lenten gospels will be from the Gospel of John. I’ll say something about them before we get there.

You can follow the lenten readings online here.

Monday: 1st Week of Advent

Readings:

Isaiah 2,1-5  All nations will come to this mountain

Matthew 8:5-11:  The Roman centurion at Capernaum.

In 8th century Jerusalem Isaiah makes glowing promises about the holy mountain, Jerusalem– all people will come there. At the same time,  Assyrian armies rumble into Palestine. “What are you talking about?” people say, “Can’t you see what’s at the door?”. But the prophet insists they will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks and there will be no wars any more.

The prophet continues making outrageous promises. There will be a cloud by day and a fire by night over this holy mountain. The mountain’s moving, on an exodus of its own. Wonderful imagery for solid institutions, like churches and nations, that have been around for centuries. You’re still on the move, and God will guide you.

The Assyrians must have had the equivalent of the Roman centurions as the backbone of their armies. If you can get to them, you’ve got the army, military analysts would say. Powerful men, loyal soldiers. They could  tell their troops: “Lay down your swords and spears,” and it would be done.

The Roman centurion in today’s gospel comes humbly before Jesus. “Lord, I am not worthy that you come under my roof, but say the word and my servant will be healed.” He comes with a faith not found in Israel.

The Messiah will touch the proud and the strong. The centurion is one of them.