What;s it all about, Matthew? Matthew the author of Matthew’s Gospel that is.
To find out what is important about the life of Jesus to each of the Gospel writers look at what they put first and how this fits in with the overall style of the Gospel. With Matthew it is about teaching.
From the early days of the church this has been recognised, and from the 5th Century symbols were used to depict the writers, so that it would help mostly illiterate, but by no means unintelligent population to understand something about the writers.
Matthews symbol is a man. A winged man, but then again all the symbols have wings. The man is a symbol of the incarnation, God has become human, one of us.It is in Matthews Gospel that we get the name for Jesus, Emmanuel, meaning God is with us. Jesus also has a meaning, saviour or God saves. In Matthews Gospel the two names are important. Together they show that God saves us by becoming human.
It is the teaching of the God-man that Matthew stresses. After the genealogies and birth of Jesus are dealt with we get the ministry, which in Matthew starts with the sermon on the mount, which takes up chapters 5 to 7.
Comparing this with the style of the book, it is easy to see that the book of Matthew is compartmentalised. There is a long section on parables, an extended teaching section from Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. The sermon on the mount may not have been one sermon, but a compilation of what Jesus taught. What is important to us is what would have been important to Matthew, that this was the authentic teaching of Jesus. It is in a style writtten for a Jewish audience.
The sermon comes at the beginning of Jesus ministry in Matthews Gospel not because it was first chronologically, but to Matthew first in importance. It sums up what the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of heaven is about. It goes like this.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
That is what is of prime importance to Matthew.
I mentioned that Matthew’s Gospel was written for a Jewish audience. Here’s Jewish songwriter Paul Simon’s take. Blessed are.
Blessed are the meth drinkers, pot sellers, illusion dwellers
There are times when I think this is a better interpretation of the meaning than I have heard in several sermons.