Today we begin the liturgical year and as it is unfolded before us Sunday by Sunday this time we will be taking the perspective of St Matthew and will be examining the life of Jesus through his eyes.
It might seem to be an unusual thing to do but for our Gospel text today we start with the end as we hear Jesus speaking about the Day of Judgement and urging his disciples to prepare themselves for that most significant day of all. He warns them that not all will be saved and it will not be possible to predict anyone’s eternal destiny simply by looking at them. We cannot look into another person’s soul and it is the state of that soul on which we will be judged.
Jesus gives them the example of the Great Flood to help them to understand how sudden and unexpected the Day of Judgement will be when it comes. Jesus wants his followers to be always in a state of readiness. And this is the real theme of Advent: readiness. Readiness to celebrate the First Coming which is the Birth of Christ, and also readiness for his Second Coming on that final great Day of Days.
In order to be ready, we need to prepare ourselves. We need to examine our consciences and repent of our sins; we must do penance and we must resolve to live good and holy lives. Although people seem these days to be living much longer than they did in the past we cannot put off this self-examination until late in life because we can never know how long our lives will be. Death can come any second and we will want to be ready and prepared and fit to enter God’s Kingdom of love and peace.
It is for this reason that Advent should be seen as a penitential season and in order to take this seriously we should make sure that during Advent we go to confession and in this way become reconciled with God.
Christ came into this world to teach us. He wants us to come to know and love God as he really is. He tells us that our God is not an angry and judgemental God but rather a God who wants us to freely love him. What God wants from us is intimacy; he wants us to grow close to him and to share in his life. The way to achieve this intimacy with God is primarily through developing our prayer life and frequenting the sacraments. While we may often use formal prayers, it is the inner dialogue that we have with God in our hearts as we go through the day that really matters.
On New Years Day each year many people make resolutions; they frequently set themselves goals and through keeping these resolutions they attempt to improve their lives and become better people. The First Sunday of Advent is traditionally regarded as the first day of the Christian Year so maybe we should make some resolutions about how we live out our spiritual lives. We can resolve to spend more time in prayer or eradicate some bad habits that are contrary to the Gospel. We can surely all do something to help us draw closer to God.
As we have already noted we will during this year be looking at the life of Christ through the eyes and ears of St Matthew. It might be a good thing to think about Matthew and to examine what he intended to do when writing his account of the life of Jesus. These days it is generally regarded that Mark was the first Gospel to be written and that both Matthew and Luke drew quite a lot of material from Mark. Actually, of Mark’s 661 verses Matthew has incorporated 600 of them into his Gospel. Matthew tends to build on Mark’s foundation and often includes more detail than is to be found in the earlier Gospel.
We know that there were may accounts of the life of Jesus. Some were written down and others were handed on in oral form. The task of the Evangelist was to gather all this information and put it together in a coherent form. Where there were differing accounts of certain miracles or the teaching of Jesus the Evangelist needed to try to discover what was the most authentic and complete version. So, composing a Gospel can have been no easy task.
It is generally assumed that Matthew was a Jew because he seems to be very familiar with Jewish thought and the religious problems of the time of Jesus. Unlike Luke he never explains the reasoning behind them but assumes that his readers will be familiar with them and this indicates that his audience was a community of Greek speaking convert Jews. He seems to believe that the Jewish traditions should not be lost in a Church that was becoming increasingly Gentile.
Because in the Church we take only short extracts from the Gospel every Sunday for our consideration we sometimes lack a real overview of the particular Gospel we are studying. For this reason, it would be a very good spiritual exercise to take the Gospel of Matthew and read it through in one sitting. This will give you a good impression of the book as a whole and enable you to see the context of the various miracles of Jesus and see how they are related to his teaching.
For example, Matthew together with Luke are the only two evangelists who give an account of the Birth of Jesus but there are marked differences between them. In their genealogies there are also differences with Matthew starting with Abraham and Luke with Adam. Matthew takes the line of Joseph but Luke follows Mary’s line. These are interesting differences. In the account of the birth of Jesus Luke talks about the Shepherds and tells us about the Presentation in the Temple. Matthew, on the other hand, tells us about the coming of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt and the Massacre of the Innocents.
Pick up the New Testament and take a look at Matthew. If you don’t have time to read it in one go then just take a few chapters at a time. You will certainly find it enriches your prayer life and it will definitely give you a lot to think about.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket