Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthew, one of the Twelve and one of the four evangelists. While some Scripture scholars identify Matthew's Gospel as the first of the four canonical Gospels to be written, it is generally accepted by most scholars that Matthew's Gospel uses both the Gospel of St. Mark as well as the Q Source as its reference material. The Gospel manuscripts appear in both Greek and Aramaic, languages which St. Matthew would have been familiar with.
Each Gospel focuses on a particular audience. In the case of St. Matthew, his Gospel was written for the Christian community of Jerusalem, a community of converts from Judaism. However, St. Matthew is also believed to be one of two apostles who took the Gospel to Egypt where a Christian community was established and still is extant today.
It is also possible to detect a consistent theme in St. Matthew's Gospel; namely, the primacy of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Christian vocation. Perhaps this theme springs out of his own personal experience of Jesus, for St. Matthew identifies himself as the tax or toll collector of Capernaum called by Jesus to be one of his disciples and named as one of the Twelve. While the Gospel of St. Mark identifies the tax collector as Levi, St. Matthew changes the name to his own. As he was reconciled to God and his brothers and sisters in Judaism through the simple invitation to follow, St. Matthew stresses throughout the Gospel that the community (or Church) is the place of forgiveness, the locus of reconciliation. This is particularly evident in two parables which are exclusive to St. Matthew's Gospel; namely, the parable of the unforgiving servant and the parable of the land owner or householder who rewards all his workers with the same wage no matter how long they have labored in the vineyard. His is also the only Gospel to include a step by step process for reaching reconciliation between members of the community.
Much has been made lately of the Holy Father’s recent proclamations regarding mercy and forgiveness. While the media are concentrating on the fact that the Holy Father has extended the power to forgive the sin of abortion to all priests, what they fail to mention is that this so-called “power” has been the practice in the United States for quite some time. More important than this one item is the consistent theme of Pope Francis’ preaching. He has reaffirmed the fact that mercy and forgiveness are part of the vocation of every Christian. St. Matthew’s Gospel makes this very clear.
As we celebrate his feast, we also give thanks to God for the gift of reconciliation and forgiveness, two gifts without which we would surely all be lost.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator