From “The New Testament”
Translated by James A. Kleist, S. J.
Very little is known as certain about the person and lift of the author of our First Gospel. He was one of the twelve Apostles. His Grecized name was Matthew (Matthew 9: 9; 10: 3; Mark 3: 18; Luke 6: 15; Acts 1: 13). According to tradition and the evidence of the Gospels, he is identical with the man named Levi in Mark 2: 14; Luke 5: 27 and 29. He was the son of Alpheus, though not of the father of James, who bore the same name.
By profession, Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 10: 3; Mark 2: 14; Luke 5: 27), that is, one employed by the so-called publicans or men who collected the taxes imposed upon the Jews by the Roman government. Because of their business, which exposed them to frequent opportunities for greed and deception (Luke 3: 12 ― 13), these men were detested by the Jews, to whom their co-operation with the foreign pagan masters was an abomination. Hence the frequent bracketing in the Synoptics of “sinners and tax collectors.”
Obscure, too, and only sparingly lit up by tradition, is the later career of this Apostle. No doubt, he began his missionary work in Jewish communities, and it was perhaps this contact with the Jewish mind that induced him to prove that Christ was in reality the long expected Messiah. It is surmised that Arabia, Ethiopia, and Persia became his special fields of labor. An inference from Revelation 18: 20 and 21: 14 seems to indicate that he died a martyr. His feast is kept on September 21.
The Gospel according to St. Matthew, is a work of outstanding merit. It is well organized and systematically built up, not on chronological order — except, of course, in the broadest sense ― but on an order suggested to him by the topics which he chose to present. According to tradition, he wrote his Gospel in the Aramaic language, which was common in Palestine at the time of Christ and was similar to Hebrew. The Greek Gospel which has come down to us is, perhaps, a free translation of the Aramaic original, in the sense that, in translating it (perhaps with the Gospel according to St. Mark before him), St. Matthew was free to change his own original by additions and stylistic modifications. We need not suppose that all Jews at the time of Christ were bilingual; but, at any rate, a tax collector at Capernaum, that busy trading center, could not carry on his business without being able to express himself in Greek.
The date of this Gospel is not certain. There are reasons for the view that it was written after the year 50 and before the destruction of Jerusalem, in the year 70.
St. Matthew makes a special point of convincing the Jews that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah. This is evident from his numerous references to the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. It is also significant that, in fullness of detail, his version of the Sermon on the Mount far exceeds that of St. Luke. It is here, particularly, that he shows the fulfillment of the Law in Christ. He alone has preserved our Lord’s important statement: “Do not think it is my mission to annul, but to fulfill.” In later literature, none of the Gospels is so frequently quoted as that according to St. Matthew.
The life and teachings of Christ are presented in three great tableaux:
I. The Public Ministry in Galilee (4: 12 ― 18: 35) preceded by an account
of preliminary events. This section shows Jesus as a Teacher (4: 12 ― 7: 29);
as a Wonderworker (8: 1 ― 9: 34); as engaged in conflict with the Jews
(9: 35 ― 13: 58); as instructing the disciples (14: 1 ― 18: 35).
II. Christ’s Ministry in Judea and Jerusalem (19: 1 ― 25: 46).
III. The Passion, the Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus (26: 1 ― 28: 20).
In reading this Gospel, it is interesting to watch the growth of attention given to Christ, that is, to see how his personality looms larger and larger, both in the impression he made on his hearers and in the increasing hostility of his enemies. It is a long way from his conception to his Ascension; and, as the mustard seed “is the tiniest of all seeds,” yet grows and eventually becomes a tree, so the human and divine qualities of Christ stand out more and more conspicuously until the last five verses reveal the fullness of his splendor. Thus, endowed “with absolute authority in heaven and on earth,” he commissions his Apostles to go into the world and “initiate all the nations into discipleship.” Where, moreover, is the earthly monarch that has ever spoken to his subjects as Christ spoke to his followers: “And mark: I am with you at all times as long as the world shall last”?
Taken from: “The New Testament”,
Translated by James A. Kleist, S. J.
and Joseph Lilley, C.M.
Bruce Publishing Co. 1954