Change is a constant in life. A month ago, we began a new liturgical year in which we will hear the
Gospel of Matthew most Sundays. In November of this year, we will be adjusting to the Roman Missal’s new Mass prayers and responses. The Gospel of Matthew and the Missal changes raise the same question: “How do we change and, at the same time, remain faithful to the core of our beliefs?”
Another key question for Matthew is, “How are Jesus’ followers connected to the people with whom God made a covenant at Mt. Sinai?” Matthew writes for a changed community still familiar with the images, words and key concepts of Judaism. He structures his Gospel on the first five books of the Bible. Known in Judaism as the Torah, they were written by Moses, according to Jewish tradition.
Matthew seeks to demonstrate that all the promises of salvation made by God in the Hebrew Scriptures have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
No wonder, then, that one of the key passages in understanding how this Gospel views change can be found in Jesus’ words, “Every scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who can bring from his storeroom both the new and the old” (13:52, New Revised Standard Version). All citations are from this source.
But who are the learned scribes? Not the Pharisees, but Jesus’ disciples, such as Matthew himself. Discipleship is a major theme of this Gospel. Although the author’s name is unknown, by tradition he is called “Matthew,” from the Greek word mathetes, meaning “disciple.”
Tradition claims that he was a tax collector, a social outcast in his day. In Matthew’s vision of Jesus’ disciples, outcasts, social “nobodies” and even gentiles are welcome. Matthew’s Jesus provokes a response from people: True disciples accept him in faith, others reject him. This theme continues from Jesus’ day to our own.