A Time of New Beginnings
This weekend we begin a new liturgical year, which means our Sunday Scripture readings will come from the first lectionary, also known as Cycle or Year A. The first reading will come from fifteen different books of the Old Testament, including Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Kings, Proverbs, Wisdom and Sirach. We will also hear from many of the prophets, including Isaiah, Zechariah and Malachi.
The second reading will come primarily from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, the Romans, the Philippians and the Thessalonians.
The third reading will come from the Gospel according to Matthew. Scholars believe Matthew’s Gospel was written between AD 80 and 90, after Mark’s Gospel was written. Because of this, scholars believe Matthew used Mark’s Gospel as a primary source.
Matthew’s Gospel was written for an audience that was primarily Jewish during a rebuilding of the Temple that was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. At that time, tensions concerning the future of Judaism arose between Matthew’s Jewish Christian Community and the Pharisees who opposed them. This is why Matthew’s account of the Gospel, more than any other account, portrays Jesus is in conflict with the Pharisees.
Matthew wanted to demonstrate to his Jewish audience that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies found in the Old Testament. Some fourteen times Matthew uses what is known as a fulfillment quotation, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.” Only in Matthew do we have Jesus saying that that he has come not to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them. All that happens in the life and ministry of Jesus is tied to the stories of the people of Israel found in the Old Testament.
At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is seen as coming forth from the lineage of Abraham and David. The story of the Holy Family is placed within the story of Moses and the Exodus. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is based on the so-called “three pillars” of Judaism in the ancient world: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The mountain itself recalls the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The core of Matthew’s Gospel is the Sermon on the Mount, one of five great discourses where Jesus teaches the community of disciples how to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The opening lines of this discourse, commonly called the Beatitudes, show that the teachings of Jesus, rooted in Jewish tradition, are now to reach beyond Judaism to the entire world.
Let us pray that this year may find us living the Beatitudes---that we too might evangelize within and beyond our communities.