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RENEW Scripture Series

Matthew Come, follow me

MARTIN A. LANG


Copyright Š 2017 RENEW International All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright Š 1989, 1993 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. RENEW International 1232 George Street Plainfield, NJ 07062-1717 www.renewintl.org Nihil Obstat Rev. John Chadwick, S.T.D. Rev. Hong Ray Cho, S.T.L., Ph.D. Rev. Stephen Fichter, Ph.D., S.T.B. Timothy Fortin, Ph.D. Rev. Kysysztof K. Maslowski, S.T.D. Rev. Lawrence Frizzell, S.T.L., S.S.L., D.Phil. Ellen Scully, Ph.D. Rev. Zachary Swantek, S.T.L. Censoribus Librorum Archdiocese of Newark Imprimatur His Eminence Joseph William Cardinal Tobin, C.Ss.R Archbishop of Newark Cover design by Ruth Markworth Book design by Kathrine Forster Kuo ISBN: 978-1-62063-128-7 Printed and bound in the United States of America


About the Author MARTIN LANG was director of the Master’s Degree Program in Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry and professor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University, Fairfield, Connecticut, from 1971 to 2005. He is currently professor emeritus. Professor Lang holds a doctorate from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and he was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale Divinity School and at Union Theological Seminary-Jewish Theological Seminary, affiliates of Columbia University in New York City. He was a lecturer in Bible-study programs in the dioceses of Bridgeport and Hartford, Connecticut; Green Bay, Wisconsin (St. Norbert College), and the Archdiocese of New York (Marist College). He was a lecturer in the Education for Parish Service Program in Connecticut, sponsored by Trinity College, Washington, D.C. Professor Lang, who is a member of the Catholic Biblical Association, was director of Bible-study tours in the Holy Land for adult learners and college students in the summers of 1982–2001. He is the author of Luke: My Spirit Rejoices!, the first book in the RENEW Scripture Series; The Inheritance: What Catholics Believe (Pflaum Publishing Group); Acquiring Our Image of God (Paulist Press); Christian Spirituality (University Press of America, Inc.) and articles on religious education. He and his wife, Carol Anne, are the parents of three grown children and grandparents of two.

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Welcome to the RENEW Scripture Series..................................................................... viii Foreword................................................................................................................................. ix Introduction........................................................................................................................... xi 1. The Geneology of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17)..................................................................1 2. The Birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25)...........................................................................8 3. Wise Men from the East (Matthew 2:1-23).............................................................. 15 4. Jesus and John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-17)........................................................... 22 5. Jesus is Truly Tempted (Matthew 4: 1-11)................................................................ 29 6. Jesus Calls His First Disciples (Matthew 4:12-25).................................................. 36 7. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12)......................................................... 43 8. You Are the Salt of the Earth (Matthew 5:13-16).................................................... 51 9. Fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-37).............................................. 57 10. Go the Second Mile (Matthew 5:38-48)................................................................... 65 11. Pray, Give Alms in Secret (Matthew 6:1-18)............................................................ 72 12. We Cannot Serve Two Masters (Matthew: 6:19-34).............................................. 80 13. Build on Rock (Matthew 7:1-29)................................................................................ 87 14. Jesus Heals the Suffering Ones (Matthew 8:1-34; 9:1-8)....................................... 94 15. ‘I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice’ (Matthew 9:9-17).................................................. 104 16. Miracles of Healing (Matthew 9:18-35).................................................................. 111 17. The Call to Discipleship (Matthew 9:36-10:15)..................................................... 117 18. The Disciple is Like the Teacher (Matthew 10:16-42).......................................... 124 19. A Covenant of Mercy (Matthew 11:1-30)............................................................... 135 20. The Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-50).......................................................... 144 21. The Word Bears Fruit, Yields a Hundredfold (Matthew 13:1-23)...................... 151 22. The Righteous Shall Shine Like the Sun (Matthew 13:24-58)............................ 158 23. Feeding the Hungry (Matthew 14:1-21).................................................................. 168 24. Take Heart; Do Not Be Afraid (Matthew 14:22-36)............................................. 176 25. What Defiles Us (Matthew: 15:1-39)....................................................................... 182

Contents

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Contents

26. Faith Needs a Strong Foundation (Matthew 16:1-20).......................................... 192 27. Agapé is Self-less Love (Matthew 16:21-28)........................................................... 200 28. ‘With Him I Am Well Pleased; Listen to Him’ (Matthew 17:1-27).................... 206 29. Whoever Is Humble Is the Greatest in the Kingdom (Matthew 18:1-20)........ 212 30. Forgive from the Heart (Matthew 18:21-35).......................................................... 220 31. Let Go, and Then Come Follow Me (Matthew 19:1-30)...................................... 227 32. Never Too Late for Salvation (Matthew 20:1-34)................................................. 234 33. Jesus Enters Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-32)............................................................. 243 34. Jesus the Cornerstone (Matthew: 21:33-46).......................................................... 254 35. All Are Invited (Matthew 22:1-14)........................................................................... 261 36. Give to God the Things That Are God’s (Matthew 22:15-33)............................. 268 37. The Greatest Commandment (Matthew: 22:34-46)............................................. 276 38. Hypocrisy is Not for Followers of Jesus (Matthew: 23:1-39).............................. 284 39. The Great Temple Will Come Down (Matthew: 24:1-44)................................... 294 40. Are We the Faithful Servants? (Matthew 24:45 – 25:13)..................................... 304 41. The Parable of the Three Servants (Matthew 25:14-30)...................................... 312 42. The Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46)................................................................ 318 43. The Conspiracy Against Jesus (Matthew 26:1-56)................................................ 326 44. The Passion According to Matthew (Matthew 26:57 — 27:1-26)...................... 337 45. Jesus is Crucified (Matthew 27: 27-66)................................................................... 348 46. The Resurrection (Matthew 28:1-15)...................................................................... 358 47. The Ascension (Matthew 28:16-20)......................................................................... 365 Use of this Book for Individual Reflection.................................................................... 373 Instructions for Small-Group Leaders........................................................................... 374 Faith Sharing in a Small Group....................................................................................... 375 APPENDIX 1: Lectio Divina................................................................................................378 APPENDIX 2: Sunday and Holy Day Readings from Matthew’s Gospel ............... 379


Welcome to the RENEW Scripture Series RENEW International is delighted to join Martin Lang, the author of this book, in his deep desire to provide adult women and men with an effective and inspiring way of engaging Holy Scripture. Professor Lang and we at RENEW are keenly aware that many Catholic Christians seek more knowledge and a deeper understanding of the Word of God. In the RENEW Scripture Series that began with Luke: My Spirit Rejoices! and continues with this book, Matthew: Come, Follow Me we offer resources to respond to that need. On behalf of RENEW, I want to thank Martin Lang for making available the reflections in both of these books, the products of a lifetime of scholarship and uncounted hours of prayer and hard work. His knowledge and insight and his rich writing style will bring the Gospel alive for individual readers and for members of small faith-sharing groups. I pray that as you encounter Jesus Christ in these pages you will grow in faith and in your commitment to being a missionary disciple, spreading his Gospel through your words and deeds and especially to those who are most in need of his healing touch. Sister Theresa Rickard, OP, DMin President and Executive Director RENEW International

Before You Begin Before embarking on this journey through the Gospel of Matthew, please read the notes for individual use of this book, instructions for small-group leaders, and suggestions for faith-sharing in a small group, on pages 373-375.

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Introduction In the last hundred years a small army of scholars, more numerous than at any previous time in history, have taken up the task of examining the Bible using all of the newly discovered professional methods. Equipped with strong skills in the ancient languages, these researchers have produced a multitude of studies inspired by the rich new manuscript and archeological discoveries of past decades. Scholars have been able to apply the tools of contemporary research, such as computer technology to help determine writing styles and carbon dating to verify dates of composition. They have even recovered erased writings on ancient palimpsest documents (reused parchments on which traces of the original writing are visible). They have deciphered much of the Dead Sea Scrolls and helped to uncover something of the cultural world that produced those documents. Modern sociological insights help to shed light on long-standing questions such as the migration patterns of the Canaanites and the number of inhabitants in Nazareth in the time of Jesus. Particularly interesting are the continual efforts of scholars to retrieve the historical Jesus, the Jesus who lived his daily life on this earth the way we do. They want to know about his family, his village, his years of work, and most importantly, what can be verified as his original words and deeds. This work tries to be attentive to a tumultuous period in the history of Israel, from the death of Jesus through the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent years when this Gospel was written. It was a time of increasing conflict, caused by internal differences within Judaism that ultimately led to defiance of the Roman overlords and precipitated the dismantling of the most beautiful architectural and religious center of the day—King Herod’s

recently renovated Temple. The loss of human life in the city of Jerusalem was staggering for those times. The impact of the death and resurrection of Jesus was equally enormous in the Jewish and Greek worlds. His teaching spread like wildfire, a new way of living with love and forgiveness at its center. Jews responded to it as a rich new dimension of their faith. NonJews, some who already converted to Judaism, joined with Jews in the Greek world who as traditional believers may have objected to this influx. It was a time fraught with new ideas and with all the controversy associated with the implementation of them. Matthew enters the arena of explanations showing the basic continuity of Jesus’ teaching with that of the Torah and the Prophets. At the same time, he beautifully weaves into his account the full thrust of Jesus’ universal message for all people. A new dawn for humankind is breaking. Matthew’s Gospel reflects the lived experience of a community that has embodied these new ideas and is still grappling with them. It is thought that this Gospel was written originally in Greek—not the language of Jesus, nor the language of Torah texts, but a language understandable by the wider world of the times, much like English today. Scholars tend to date it sometime in the last decades of the first century. Contemporary readers who seek nourishment from the Bible and do not have these technical interests look for spiritual enrichment and a method of interpretation that strengthens their faith and their love of God. They also want to include whatever is possible from the new insights of the scholarly community without concentrating on the technical details. This commentary attempts to bring together the findings of contemporary scholarship while preserving the original xi


intent of the New Testament evangelists. The objective is to encourage and ratify belief in Jesus as Lord. As its basic method of interpretation, this book searches for the literal meaning of the Gospel. The literal meaning is the meaning intended by the author. Matthew, like all authors, writes for a particular intended audience who will understand and be inspired by the teachings and the ministry of Jesus.

The Gospel as a Narrative It is essential to preserve the narrative perspective as presented in the Gospel of Matthew. That perspective is the unique vision given to the story of Jesus by each Gospel writer. Matthew’s vision offers a point of view that invites the reader to become part of the entourage of Jesus, to listen to his words as a disciple who follows him and sits at his feet. The reader watches as Jesus heals the sick, raises the dead, and goes to his own death on Calvary. We become one of the original disciples while listening to his words. We are therefore encouraged to enter into the narrative this way, supported by the belief that, indeed, Jesus has not left us alone in this world. He is still present in a mysterious way, and his voice is heard in the text of the Gospel. We can only assume that the biblical author is giving us a faithful rendition of what the writer and his community understood as the true teachings of Jesus, whether or not the words follow the form of court-like transcriptions. Christian faith relies on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guarantee for us that we listen to the true teachings of our Savior if not to his exact words in every instance. If we come to the gospel text with pre-conceived ideas, we might miss the rich banquet of meanings that the earliest Christians treasured. Modern commentaries often concentrate on the biblical author, analyzing his sources, his style, the structure of his text, and even his contribution to the content of the Gospels. xii

This is fully in keeping with current scientific exegesis. But for the non-expert, the focus of the reader’s attention often moves off Jesus and on to the biblical writer. For example, it is not uncommon for us to read in commentaries on Matthew that he has put certain words into the mouth of Jesus that Jesus never spoke. One such instance would be the vigorous denunciation of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees found in Matthew, chapter 23. This possibly accurate historical information is useful to us since we can feel relieved that Jesus did not fire off these diatribes against his supposed enemies. Yet in the context of reading the gospel narrative such thinking interrupts the literary flow of the Gospel as intended by the biblical author. Momentarily, these kinds of observations break us out of the narrative to think about the writer. It is as if, while watching a movie, we were to step away from the plot to analyze the post-production “cuts” made by the director. This issue dramatizes the challenge of writing a contemporary commentary that endeavors to enhance faith. Can we preserve the biblical author’s intended perspective while employing the useful knowledge gained from current research? We can rest assured that the author of Matthew’s Gospel did not want us to center our attention on him, his literary style or the way he arranged the text. He wanted us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and our ears attuned to Jesus’ divine teaching. On the other hand, if we follow the text intensely, as every narrative invites us to do, we are in danger of returning to a biblical fundamentalism that reads every word from a rigid historical perspective as if everything that is written in the narrative is a moment-bymoment transcript. This position strips us of all the advantages of the scholarship of the last two centuries.

Matthew: Come Follow Me


Read, Reflect, and Pray Each of the thirty-six sessions in this book includes one or more readings from Matthew’s Gospel and the following categories of reflection:

Enter into the Biblical Story What is necessary is a satisfactory blending of many approaches to interpretation, which admittedly is not easy, given the distinctive methodology of each approach. This commentary makes an effort to satisfy the needs of the committed believer as well as those of the serious inquirer by melding together several interpretative techniques. For example, in the first section of commentary after each passage the reader is encouraged to “Enter into the Biblical Story,” take on the mantle of a disciple in the time of Jesus, follow him, and listen to his teaching. This calls upon our imagination and is a powerful way to feel physically close to Jesus. We watch him carefully as he teaches. We see and share with him in his compassionate healing. This segment then gently leads the reader into some of the methods and theological purposes of the author without losing sight of the objective of every Gospel: to enhance and deepen faith. Issues about Matthew’s sources and his organizational style are woven into this segment, one hopes without intruding on overall appreciation of the Gospel as a spiritually nourishing narrative.

Appreciating the Old Testament Witness The “Old Testament Witness” examines the Hebrew Scriptures, trying to recapture the theological perspective of the Gospel. It is assumed here that Matthew or his instructors scoured the Hebrew Scriptures for every conceivable reference to the Messiah. The author had at his disposal the traditions from Mark and the parables of Jesus. Since there is a correspondence with certain passages in Introduction

Luke, some scholars see both authors using a source, theorized but never found, called “Q” (simply an abbreviation of the German word for “source.”) Whatever the literary sources, Matthew brilliantly portrays the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, relating all the events as fulfilling the expectations and going well beyond the hopes of the people of Israel. To read the Gospel of Matthew with the same mind as the author and the first Christians, we need to ponder some Old Testament texts (Hebrew Scriptures) for the signals about Jesus. For example, the reference to a virgin who will have a son called Emmanuel (Mt 1:23) reflects the teachings of the prophet Isaiah. It is intended to show us Jesus as “God with us” from the very start of the Gospel. Then, throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is “the Lord,” the presence of God who has come to join us in the human family. We realize that this method is different from the method one might use in studying the Old Testament in its own time and its literary form. In that case, one would study the quotation from Isaiah in the context of eight-century Israel and determine its meaning within its own unique literary presentation. We learn from the early Christian writer Justin Martyr (c. 150 A.D.) that at the Sunday assemblies the “memoirs of the apostles” or the “writings of the prophets” were read. The reference to the Hebrew Scriptures, and specifically to the prophets, continued throughout the early centuries of Christian development. The usage is still visually apparent in the Middle Ages. We have only to look at certain stained-glass windows in the Cathedral of Chartres where the evangelists are depicted as riding on the shoulders of the Old Testament prophets. Matthew sits atop the shoulders of Isaiah who is thus shown to 12thxiii


century pilgrims as a most important prophet whose prophecies are fulfilled in the Gospel of Matthew.

Respond to the Human Experience A third interpretative technique is used in this analysis that is different from other studies of the Gospels. It is a segment called “Respond to the Human Experience.” In an effort to use the language of modern culture we search for conceptualizations familiar in our world today, drawing on the enlightenments of science (genetics, anthropology, history, social sciences) and whatever is recognizable to the average person and helps us bring the message of the Gospel into the world in which we live. Conditions that existed in the time of Jesus, such as loss in death, physical disabilities, and disease, continue for us. So do mental illnesses that we now recognize and name. In a way, our love for family, our hope for survival, our struggle with loss are similar to the experiences of people in the past, although our present world is so vastly different. It is sufficient to make clear that in these observations we do not pretend to expound scientific explanations of these phenomena.

arise out of the scriptural readings. There must be a personal engagement of the individual with the risen Lord. One must speak to Jesus about what one has studied to move from the realm of the mind to matters of the heart.

The Liturgy An early use of the gospel text (second century) seems to have been in a community setting. As we mentioned above, Justin Martyr (150 A.D.) offers us a window into the early liturgy of the Mass by telling us that participants heard scripture readings followed by a homily and then partook of the gifts of bread and wine which were the flesh and blood of Christ (Justin, First Apology, 65-67). This teaching along with the shared and broken bread constituted a real presence of Jesus with his followers. That has been the experience of the Christian Church from the earliest recorded documents. Our present liturgical readings draw heavily from St. Matthew’s Gospel in the “A” cycle. The liturgy, Sunday and daily, offers a wide selection of readings from each of the gospels, from the epistles and from segments of the Old Testament.

Respond to God’s Word The final segment of interpretation is entitled “Respond to God’s Word.” Here, the reader is encouraged to formulate his or her own response to the words and teachings of Jesus. This involves us at a very personal level. Some ideas are offered for those who want to learn this method of meditative reflection or who, after reading a particular passage, still feel empty. These are the ways of prayer, sometimes rewarding and at other times disappointing. After some practice, however, the reader may not find it necessary to consult this section, because a natural method of prayer begins to xiv

Matthew: Come Follow Me


THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW SING TO THE LORD A NEW SONG I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them. A Hymn of Praise Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth! Let the sea roar and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. Isaiah 42:6-10 This declaration from the prophet Isaiah inspires Matthew’s Gospel. Here Jesus offers a new vision of the age-old covenant that is no longer only for the people of Israel. It is a light for all the nations of the world. The enlightenment of Jesus is the most freeing message ever to be announced to humankind.

Introduction

In the context of this awareness, the genealogical opening of Matthew’s Gospel is not to be minimized. It is anything but a dry recital of ancestry as we recognize in such lists today. Lo and behold: the gene pool that Jesus inherited is made, not only of favored personages and kings, but also of pagans—and even of sinners and prostitutes! Jesus is born in the birthplace of David. Wise men from the mysterious East, often characterized as kings, acknowledge the presence of this new and universal king, bringing him gifts worthy of such an exalted one. The reigning king of Jerusalem feels threatened at the birth of this baby, even though he is the mightiest monarch in the entire region. This is God’s own appointed Messiah, a new Moses and a true Son of God! The good news from this heavenly King will be a renewed presentation of the Torah, raising its melody an octave higher into the very heavenly realms from which it arises. It is delivered like the Torah of Moses, from a Mount—not in the foreign land of Egypt but in God’s holy land, a place symbolic of the whole earth. All the world is now designated as holy land. And in the holy land of this earth the world-changing teaching and the mighty power of the words and acts of Jesus unfold. We all are the disciples called. And we all are supported and endorsed by the power from on high.

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FOCUS

The Genealogy of Jesus

God works through men and women of all nations; as children of God, we are part of a world family.

Opening Song You may download the following song from the virtual CD Music for the RENEW Scripture Series. Track 1: “The Age of Expectation,” Bobby Fisher/Ed Gutfriend Go to www.renewintl.org/Scripture and click on “Virtual CD” to go to the playlist. To buy the album, click “Download all MP3s.” To buy individual songs, click “Add to Cart” to the right of each title, and then click either “Continue Shopping” or click “View Cart/Checkout” to conclude the purchase.

Opening Prayer Pray together: We place ourselves before you, O Lord, conscious of your overwhelming love that has given us a world of abundance. We pray that all your children may share in it. We thank you for the continuing presence of your Son, our brother Jesus, who shares with us the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We thank you for our family through whom your love is now extended to us. May we hear your word with untroubled attention so that we may share your love with all who meet us today. Amen.

Breaking Open God’s Word Matthew 1:1-17 — A Son of David

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Reflect Reflect for a moment in silence. What word, phrase, or image from the scripture reading touches your heart or speaks to your life?

Enter into the Biblical Story What appears at first glance to be a cold, clinical introductory listing of the ancestors of Jesus turns out to be far more than that. It is, in fact, a warm profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah of Judaism, having descended according to prophesy from the Israelite people, a true son of the great King David. The Gospel offers Jesus to us as a new David—like David in his thirst for justice, like him in suffering and in open-hearted generosity, but unlike David in Jesus’ rejection of violence and espousal of poverty. Jesus in this Gospel is the David without faults. So we let our imaginations first think of David and then move on to think of Jesus. This new wonderful David comes from “the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt 4:15). His name is Jesus which is Greek, not Joshua its, Jewish equivalent. It is no scandal that the Messiah of Israel arises from among the Gentiles. We are told in this genealogy that the great-grandmother of David was the Gentile model of family love, Ruth, a Moabite. Her husband, Boaz of Bethlehem, David’s birthplace, and the owner of the wheat fields also had a Canaanite mother.1 Even Solomon, the paragon of wise rulers, was born of a Gentile mother, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. She had been taken in adul1

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tery by David; yet, after David’s repentance God favored their union with this outstanding child, Solomon. God raises up his great servants, including these Gentile heroines of his plan, from any soil. All that is required is a whole-hearted response to his loving invitations. This is the universal theme of the whole Gospel, sounded as the first notes here and replayed at the end with the final words of Jesus, “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples” (Mt 28:19). That is why Abraham is mentioned in the opening line. From Abraham, a single barren ancestor from a foreign land, came the people of Israel as numerous as the sand at the seashore or the stars in the heavens (Gn 22:17-18). It all happened because God chose to bestow his blessings and one person responded. The text notes that the lineage of Jesus is divided into three units of fourteen generations. Why fourteen? Because in Hebrew David’s name is spelled with three letters (no vowels, DVD). “D” is the fourth and “V” the sixth letters of the Hebrew alphabet, adding up to fourteen. We are to reflect that God’s plan for his people is tinted throughout prior history with the color of “good David” and

Genesis chapter 10 gives us a genealogy of Noah’s sons.

Matthew: Come, Follow Me


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The Old Testament Witness

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od’s superb plan begins with Abraham. Jesus is linearly the son of Abraham, the original ancestor of the people of Israel. We might meditate on Abraham’s clumsy response to God using imagery from the book of Genesis: In ancient beginnings, at the birth of faith, lies Abraham. God chose him. And in spite of Abraham’s original misgivings, and in spite of Abraham’s misguided strivings to save himself at the cost of his wife, and in spite of his selfish trying to generate a child by his wife’s own maidservant, God chose him. And in spite of Abraham’s misunderstood offering of his only beloved son, God chose him. Then, at last, Abraham responded and God’s plan was ready to unfold.1

The genealogy begins by identifying Jesus as the son of David and then the son of Abraham. In all the telling of Israel’s story in Matthew’s Gospel, David and then Moses dominate. David is the greatest king, excepting as we are told regarding his sin, “in the case of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kgs 15:5) and Moses is the greatest prophet. The opening passage of Matthew’s Gospel inspires us to keep David in the landscape

of our meditation as we reflect on the plan of God that is about to unfold in the birth of Jesus. Once Jesus begins his ministry, the imagery of Moses emerges. We will then be able to hear the five sermons of Jesus as a reflection on the five books of Moses that constitute the Pentateuch. Unlike the normal biblical genealogies, which, for example, are recorded in the books of Chronicles women are mentioned in this one: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba). Why? Because in an unusual way, each foreign woman gave birth to a child of Israel outside the normal standards of family practice. Mary fits nicely into the company of these famous women. They entered the faith community of Abraham and, in spite of family irregularities God incorporated them and their children into his plan. Mary, too, though not an outsider, yet from the land of outsiders (Galilee), brought forth the long-awaited Messiah of Israel outside the normal standards of family practice. The women, heroes of ancient Israel, serve as examples to all who feel marginalized and feel like outsiders. God can bring forth from these humble origins the greatest heroes of the salvation story. In fact, the mixing of “us” (Jews) with those we once regarded as “them” (Gentiles) can be a saving miracle for the human race.

1 In Genesis 12-25 the genealogies and the life of Abraham are described.

Session 1: The Geneology of Jesus

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Jesus displays the brilliance of that color perfectly. Mary of whom Jesus is born is introduced as the wife of Joseph. And Joseph bears the name of the good son of the patriarch Jacob who

provides bread for his brothers when they are close to perishing from hunger and forgives them for their sin of violence toward him.1 The genealogy therefore bristles with references to the good people in Jesus’ ancestry.

Reflect The history of our faith, dating back to Abraham, is filled with people who discerned that God was calling them to a certain task or vocation. Describe a time when you felt that God was calling you in a personal way. How did you respond?

Respond to the Human Experience Psychologists love origins. They often want to delve into our family histories to discover the root causes of our disaffections. Perhaps this tendency to search into our backgrounds somehow lies deep within the human condition as the genealogies of Scripture seem to indicate. While Sigmund Freud in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had a fascination for anthropology and the activities of “early man,” contemporary researchers concern themselves more with the biological interactions of genetic history. All want to look into what went before us. The older we are the more concerned we become with family history, because we see it continuing with the next generations. The long sweep of life may lead us to wonder where an evolving biology and human psychology are heading. Matthew’s genealogy is a vision of regeneration and new creation. The Old Testament story provides the seedbed for new thoughts. It does not conceal that Rahab was a pros1

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titute. She turned out to be a woman-savior of Israel (Jos 6:25). The Old Testament does not condemn Tamar for seducing her fatherin-law. She brought forth sons that had been unlawfully denied her by this same man (Gn 38). Ruth seemed to turn her womanly charms upon Boaz by sleeping at his feet in the fields of Bethlehem (Ruth 3:8). Yet the children born of these unions formed the heritage, not simply of the great king David but of Jesus the Messiah of Israel! Reading this opening passage tells us there may be an anthropological history of humankind and there may be a genetic history for individuals, but there is also a kind of “religious genetics,” a story-history of God’s dealings with those who believe and try to respond to him. Greatness can be engendered from the most ordinary servants. God can produce an incredible work of human virtue from the humble flesh of this earth. We cannot let our minds remain with Abraham, David, or even Jesus back then. The

Genesis chapter 43

Matthew: Come, Follow Me


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response of the present moment leads us to think of God now, in the light of what he has said to us in this passage. We learn that all people have the potential to be fulfillers of the divine plan. It is the most basic fallacy to think of other people who might be so profoundly different from us as to become irrevocably “they.” “They” are part of the family of humankind, whether they espouse other religions, whether their lifestyles strike us as strange or different, whether their skin appears unlike ours. God still dwells with Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists just as he does with Jews and Christians.

God relates to these “strangers” just as often and just as intently as he relates to us. Our faith tells us, nevertheless, that we are the inheritors of a privileged religious history. Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” for all people who accept him in baptism. In him alone is the fullness of salvation. Still, God has a plan for each life because this passage tells us that God works in concert with every individual person. What he asks of each human being, us as well as “them,” is that we all respond to his initiatives as best we can detect them. That can serve as a basic building block of our spirituality.

Reflect How do you balance your confidence in your Catholic faith with the author’s observation that “God relates to these ‘strangers’ just as often and just as intently as he relates to us’’?

Respond to God’s Word We ask God to move us to think of ourselves as members of a world family. With this vision we can pray to help bring about a world filled with peace and with justice for all who are truly our brothers and sisters. We need and pray for the strength to participate as we can with the divine, ever-changing and ever-renewing plan.

Invitation to Act

This session reminds us that God works through people of all kinds and from all places, often including “ordinary” people like us. To what kind of action does this inspire you?

Session 1: The Geneology of Jesus

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Reflect Write about the things that make you feel that you are part of a worldwide family.

Pray Pray for the strength and wisdom to discern and play your part in bringing peace and justice to an ever-widening part of humanity. What words would you use?

Act Set aside a time and place to be silent and insulated from distractions. Open yourself to awareness of the presence of God. If you are distracted, simply breathe deeply and return to silence. When you feel the presence of God with you, open yourself to the awareness that he is present everywhere, with everyone. Conclude by praying the Glory Be. This week I will ...

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Matthew: Come, Follow Me


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SESSION

Closing Prayer Pray together: Almighty God, the story of our faith, beginning with your call to Abraham and Sarah, reminds us that people like us, ordinary people living ordinary lives are often the instruments through which you work in order to transform the world. Help us to be aware of your call and to answer as did Abraham and Sarah and countless others who have believed in you. Help us to say, “Yes, Lord. Your will be done.’’ We ask this through Jesus Christ, your son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Looking Ahead Prepare for the next faith-sharing meeting by reading: • Matthew 1:18-25 • Session 2: The Birth of Jesus

Session 1: The Geneology of Jesus

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Profile for RENEW International

Gospel of matthew sample session  

Gospel of matthew sample session