To the Jews with Love, Mathew
Like Peter and other disciples, Mathew was not an activist. Mathew was a treasury clerk to record the tax transactions with an intellectual bent of calculations and mathematics. He, therefore, uses these contemplative skills to record the reflections of Jesus.
By Fr. Vinayak Jadav SJ
Evangelist Mathew wrote the gospel predominantly for the Jewish audience. He wanted to convince the Jewish people that Jesus is the Messiah you were waiting for. Mathew the author of the first synoptic gospel is believed to have earned distrust and contempt of the Jews being a Levi, a publican, a tax-collector himself. A Levi was perceived as a traitor to the Jews (especially in Mathew’s priestly tribe) because he worked in favour of the ruling Romans. It is this ‘discriminated’ Levi who experiences acceptance and an invitation “to follow” Jesus which transforms Mathew to indeed become a follower. Jesus then dines at his place, further deepening Mathew’s experience of forgiveness and acceptance which is the foundation of his faith to present Jesus as the Messiah. A rejected Levi turns literally “a gift of Yahweh” which is the meaning of the name ‘Mathew’. The Jews awaited a political messiah who would free them from the Roman slavery. Mathew experiences freedom from inner slaveries and thus finds Jesus as the true liberator, the Messiah. Jesus is “King of his heart” to Mathew who freed him from the evils of his profession. Therefore, Mathew wishes to present the teachings of Jesus as the message of a self-sacrificing king about the kingdom of love. Mathew wishes to introduce to the Jews this faith in a Messiah who is not just a material liberator but a spiritual and integral liberator. The use “Kingdom of heaven” instead of “Kingdom of God” used in other gospels suggests the shift from a worldly king and kingdom to a heavenly king and kingdom, from the earthly needs to the spiritual needs.
Like Peter and other disciples, Mathew was not an activist. Mathew was a treasury clerk to record the tax transactions with an intellectual bent of calculations and mathematics. He, therefore, uses these contemplative skills to record the reflections of Jesus. His professional versatility in Greek and Aramaic helps him in this great mission. The focus on the teachings make the account of Mathew unique among all the four gospels. Mathew by showing in these teachings the fulfilment of the prophecies wants to present Jesus as the true messiah. He contextualizes Jesus’ life and ministry into the existential context of Judaism. Often religions and their teachings remain in the ethereal abstract realm. Mathew conveys to the Jews with allusions to the Old Testament that Jesus was indeed a Jew. Mathew’s gospel therefore is the first ever attempt of inculturation.
Mathew presents not just a liberator Jesus but a proclaimer and evangelizer Jesus. Having exposed that the guards accepted money to spread the report that the story of actual resurrection is a lie, Mathew presents Jesus as the one sending disciples to baptize and to teach. Mathew wishes that Jesus is accepted wholeheartedly by the Jews. In and through all our activities and labour, like Mathew, we ultimately wish to present and proclaim Jesus, not ourselves. For in proclaiming Jesus alone is the salvation of life. By boldly telling the true story, Mathew inspires modern media persons too who are trapped in the political and commercial labyrinth of untruth and fake news or half news.
Finally, Mathew’s unique mention of the Magi episode, emphasizes that Jesus was hailed as their king even by the kings from the east. Even the kings accepted Jesus, why not you Jews too accept Jesus! The offerings of the Magi are symbols of royalty. The star leading these wise visitors from the east is a star shown by Evangelist Mathew not only unto the Jews but unto all of us to follow the path all the way up to Jesus, the Christ and the Messiah!
(Image/Photo Courtesy: Unsplash.com, Canva.com)
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