Last summer, I spent a couple of days in Las
Vegas as part of our family vacation. The city is everything
you see in the movies, colorful, noisy and packed with people
winning and losing money! There are lots of shows, many featuring
Elvis impersonators, Madonna impersonators and other look-alikes.
We are attracted to famous people. It seems
that, if we cannot experience the original person, we want
someone close. What does this have to do with the Gospel of
Matthew? Well, some people at the time the Gospel was written
didn't believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah (the Hebrew
word for savior). They thought he was impersonating
the real Messiah who was yet to arrive. The author of
Matthew needed to make a case that Jesus had power and authority
that only the Son of God could have.
At the same time the author of Matthew (whom
we will simply call Matthew in this Youth Update) gives
evidence that Jesus followed the tradition of the great leaders
of Judaism: Abraham, Moses and King David. The place where
the Gospel was written was primarily a Jewish community. To
convince Jewish people to believe in Jesus, Matthew wanted
to show how Jesus resembled their great leaders, even though
he was much greater than any of them.
The Gospel helped the community to put their
faith in Jesus as the Savior. It can help us do so, too! This
Youth Update shows how.
This Gospel's Design
One reason the Gospel of Matthew is the first
Gospel in the New Testament is because an old tradition held
that it was the first Gospel written. Most people now believe
that the Gospel of Mark has that distinction.
Mark most likely was written first because the
authors of Matthew and Luke used Mark as a primary source
in creating their Gospels. Still, Matthew has a place of honor
in the Catholic Church. Because the writing is so clear and
the stories and teachings are so powerful, it is quoted more
often in Church teachings than any of the other Gospels.
The Gospel of Matthew has a clear outline once
you know what to look for. An introduction (prologue) explains
Jesus' origin and infancy. A dramatic climax tells the story
of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection.
In between, Matthew seems to be divided into
five parts, organized around five speeches (sometimes called
discourses) by Jesus. Each part ends with the words "When
Jesus had finished this discourse" or something similar.
Before you read any further I want to say this:
It is more important to read the Gospel of Matthew than to
read this Youth Update! The Gospel is a powerful work
of literature. As Scripture, it is inspired by God, which
means that God will speak to you through its words. Try to
have your Bible close by so you can look up passages noted
in this Youth Update.
Jesus' Family Tree
Have you ever heard your parents tell stories
about when you were born? Births are powerful events and sometimes
people see special meaning in the circumstances surrounding
This is certainly true of Jesus' birth. There
are two parts to the birth story: a genealogy, or list of
the ancestors of Jesus, and then the story itself. Let's take
a closer look at the list of ancestors in Chapter One.
The list begins with Abraham. This Old Testament
figure is honored because he demonstrated complete faith in
God, even being willing to sacrifice his son at God's command.
By linking Abraham to Jesus, the Gospel prepares us to see
that Jesus had even greater faith in God, because Jesus actually
gave up his own life.
Farther down the list, King David is prominently
mentioned. David was the strongest and most successful warrior
and king in Israel's history. Like David, Jesus is a warrior,
but the battle he wins is over sin and death.
If you read closely, you will find the names
of four women in the list. This is unusual in a society where
women were second-class citizens. But even stranger is that
three of these women were not Israelites but had married into
the Jewish faith.
It is possible the author is preparing us for
the key role of Mary as the mother of Jesus in God's plan
of salvation. But it also reflects the experience of the early
Christians that gentiles (non-Jews) seemed more willing to
accept Jesus as savior than many Jews.
Jesus as Teacher
People are often surprised that preparing to
go to college takes as much effort as being there. Preparing
for ministry is also like that. In the first part of Matthew
(Chapters 37) we see Jesus preparing for his active
We are introduced to John the Baptist who baptizes
Jesus. Then Jesus is led into the desert where Satan tempts
him. The 40 days he spends there recall the 40 years the Israelites
wandered in the desert, developing total trust in God.
Jesus' growing reputation gives him an opportunity
to deliver a remarkable speech that we call the Sermon on
the Mount. Chapters 57 are the Cliffs Notes of Jesus'
In this speech he gives us the Beatitudes and
the Lord's Prayer. Delivering the sermon from a mountaintop
makes Jesus seem like Moses who received the original Jewish
Law from God on Mount Sinai.
Jesus doesn't simply repeat the old teaching
and he doesn't dismiss it, either. Instead he asks for a deeper
and more challenging observance.
The Old Law forbids murder but Jesus teaches
that hanging on to anger is wrong. The Old Law forbids adultery
but Jesus teaches that nurturing lust is sinful. His authority
and confidence in reinterpreting the Jewish Law make it clear
that Jesus is more than just another wandering preacher.
The first part of the Gospel of Matthew presents
Jesus as a powerful teacher and preacher. In part two, Chapters
810, the Gospel presents Jesus as a powerful miracle
Skim over the paragraph headings in Chapters
Eight and Nine in your Bible. You will notice that Jesus performs
nine miracles organized into three sets of three. What do
these miracles tell us about Jesus?
First, they tell us that he backed up
his powerful words with powerful deeds. The Gospel message
isn't just nice words about the future but makes a difference
Second, they establish Jesus' authority
over all creation, including nature, demons and even sin.
These miracles help confirm Jesus' divinity as the Son of
God. This part concludes in Chapter 10, with what is sometimes
called the mission sermon. Jesus gives this speech to the
12 apostles as he sends them out to share his mission.
Jesus' words warn of persecution and of division
within families. His warnings reflect the rejection and persecution
the Christian community was experiencing at the time the Gospel
I have sometimes been ridiculed because of
my strong stance against violence and revenge. When you take
a stand based on your Christian values, you may be questioned
or even attacked.
Jesus experienced this. Earlier, Jesus had warned
his followers about persecution. Now he encounters it himself
in the third part of the Gospel (11: 113:52).
The Pharisees were a group concerned with strictly
observing the Jewish Law. They could not accept Jesus' new
interpretation of it.
For example, read Matthew 12:9-14. In this encounter
the Pharisees are upset because Jesus heals someone on the
Sabbath and the Law doesn't allow work on the Sabbath.
Jesus gives a convincing response that apparently
leaves them speechless. But instead of being won over, they
became more opposed to Jesus.
Jesus' teaching in this part of the Gospel takes
the form of several parables rather than a long speech. These
parables illustrate what God's Kingdom is like and often take
a surprising twist.
The parable of the seed shows that not everyone
will respond to the Gospel message and bear fruit. The parables
of the mustard seed and the yeast explain that the Kingdom
will experience huge growth from small beginnings.
Qualities of Church
The fourth section of Matthew, 13:5418:35,
is a collection of stories and teachings that provide a basis
for understanding what the Church should be like. While lots
of things are going on in these chapters, let's focus on three.
First, these stories clearly show that
the Church is founded on the belief that Jesus is the Son
of God, the Messiah. The stories of walking on water, Peter's
statement of faith and the Transfiguration (a visible spiritual
change) all make that point. You can find these declarations
of belief in Jesus in verses 14:33, 16:16 and 17:5.
Second, we see that Peter has a special
role in founding the Church. Peter is the one who asks to
walk on water with Jesus (14:28). He is given divine knowledge
of Jesus' identity (16:17). He is at the Transfiguration (17:1)
and he is the one who asks Jesus about forgiveness (18:21).
Jesus provides for leadership and authority among his followers.
This has become the basis for the role of the pope and bishops
Third, forgiveness and reconciliation
must balance authority in the Church. Look at Jesus' instruction
on how to respond to someone who has committed an offense
against you in 18:15-18. It directs that we should give each
other several opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation.
This teaching reminds us that when our relationships with
friends and family get rocky we should try more than once
to resolve the problems that divide us.
Up to Jerusalem
Teens sometimes challenge authority in their
attempt to understandor even point outthe truth
at the heart of many of our traditions. Jesus not only did
this but also pointed out when the authorities' practices
went against God's truth.
Part five, Chapters 1925, describes the
escalating tension between Jesus and the authorities in the
final weeks of his life. This tension culminates when Jesus
casts the money-changers and the vendors selling animals for
sacrifice out of the Temple. These people were making a scandalous
profit from selling animals needed for people's annual religious
duty. The chief priests of the Temple were in on this scam.
Matthew justifies Jesus' dramatic actions by
appealing, once again, to the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament).
If you look at verses in Chapters 21 and 22, you will see
frequent quotes from the Old Testament.
Jesus' last great speech in Chapters 24 and
25 is a teaching on the future of the Kingdom of God. It is
often called the eschatological sermon (eschatological
means end times).
The Catholic Church does not try to make predictions
about the end of the world from the prophecies of wars, famines,
earthquakes and the coming of the Son of Man contained in
Chapter 24. But the parables of the 10 virgins, the talents
and the final judgment in Chapter 25 help us understand what
Jesus meant. Though there are times when our world seems shaken
to the core, if we live each day in service to others we will
always be ready to meet the Lord.
Scholars believe that the author of Matthew
used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source of material in
creating the Gospel. Knowing this can help us understand the
author's intentions by looking at what he added to or changed
from Mark. This is especially true for the familiar stories
of Jesus' Last Supper, arrest, trial, execution and Resurrection.
For example, read the story of Jesus' crucifixion
and death in both Mark 15:21-41 and Matthew 27:32-56. Did
you notice any differences?
Matthew adds the detail that the wine was mixed
with gall (bitter flavoring) to match the prophecy of Psalm
69:22. And while in Mark only the Roman centurion proclaims
Jesus to be the Son of God, in Matthew it is both the centurion
and his men, emphasizing that many gentiles came to believe
Looking at these differences between Mark and
Matthew helps us understand the themes Matthew wants to make
clear. Knowing that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament
prophecies and that even many gentiles recognized him as the
Messiah helped the first readers of the Gospel come to believe
in Jesus as the Messiah.
This overview of the Gospel of Matthew is only
a glimpse into the Gospel's presentation of Jesus Christ's
life and mission. One of the most powerful ways to meet Jesus
is to read the Gospels.
As you read this Gospel, ask yourself what image
of Jesus emerges for you. Can you also exclaim with Peter,
"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!" (16:16)?
The Gospel of Matthew concludes with this command,
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (28:19).
Those words are meant not just for those first disciples but
also for us. What you learn about Jesus through the Gospel
will help you share your faith with others.