Lectionary Year A
March 31, 2002
Step III: Composition
A. Immediate Context
(JFC) Pre - Matthew 27 tells of Jesus' trial before Pilate where Jesus answers the
question, "Are you the King of the Jews?", with the cryptic, "You say so," and Barabbas is released. Next, the crucifixion is described and then Matthew's last words of Jesus and His burial in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb are described. Finally, this chapter ends with the chief priests and the Pharisees getting Pilate to send guards to secure the tomb so the disciples couldn't open it and make it look like Jesus' predictions of His resurrection might have taken place after all. These paragraphs seem to try to detail the events leading up to the tomb's being empty when the women arrive.
Post - The rest of this last chapter of Matthew, 28, tells of the women going to tell Jesus' disciples of the empty tomb and the guards going into the city to inform the chief priests of it. Then the chief priests bribed the guards to spread the rumor that Jesus' disciples had come in the night and stolen His body rather than that He had been raised. Jesus appeared to eleven of the disciples, gave them the "Great Commission" and promised to be with them always. These verses provide a fitting if all too brief end of the story of Jesus' earthly sojourn in human form. There is good news in these lines as well as ways to respond to it.
B. Organization of the Compositional Whole
(JFC) As previously stated in these pages, Albright and Mann, observe (Anchor
Bible), "Matthew has two principal interests: the fulfillment of God's purposes in and through Jesus, and how this fulfillment will find its expression in the community which Jesus founded." Although the most concise outline of this Gospel is in Reginald H. Fuller's article in Harper's Bible Commentary, a more nearly complete summary might be: the first two chapters of Matthew's Gospel tell of Jesus' birth. 3:1-12 relate John the Baptist. 3:13-4:11 give accounts of Jesus' temptation and baptism. 4:12-18:35 tell of His teachings and preaching in Galilee, including the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), the calling and instructing the twelve (10), parables on the Kingdom (13), life in the New Israel (14-17) and Jesus' journeying to Jerusalem for His last week on earth (21-28). Through these segments, Matthew's Gospel seems to intend to depict Jesus as the Messiah the Old Testament Jews longed for. They report Jesus' fulfilling more prophecies than the other Gospels do. They clarify that the New Testament people are the true Israel (16:17-19), actually replacing the former Israel. Several commentaries give "five discourses in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25, that Matthew intended his work to serve as a foundation book for his community, . . . In fact, Matthew came to serve as the preeminent Gospel for the church as a whole." So states Fuller.
C. Issues of Authorship
(JFC) As noted previously in these studies in these pages, since early in the second
century CE, when Papias, a bishop of Hierapolis, referred to Matthew, the tax collector, one of Jesus' disciples (Matt. 9:9 and 10:3), it has been thought he wrote this Gospel. However, Papias says the work to which he refers contains only sayings of Jesus and that it was written in Hebrew. Matthew, as we have it, tells of actions and events, as well as sayings of Jesus and it was written in Greek, not Hebrew. So, evidently, Papias means another document, one now lost. This Gospel seems to have been written anonymously between 70-85 CE, since it is mentioned by Ignatius of Antioch in 115 CE and relies on Mark's Gospel, which was written about 70 CE. Ignatius also says it was written in Syria. Suzanna de Dietrich (LBC) notes that the community addressed by this Gospel is "experiencing persecution. Certain passages without doubt reflect this situation. The writer was concerned to fortify the faith of the Christians - to remind them that Jesus had foreseen these struggles and that He had foreseen the apostasy of some, the lukewarmness of others (5:11-12; 10:16-23; 24:9-13)." And, Eduard Schweizer (The Good News According To Matthew) says, "Above all, the method of learned interpretation of the Law, which 'loses' and 'binds,' was still central for Matthew and his community. . . Preservation of sayings such as 23:2-3, which support the continued authority of Pharisaic teaching, and above all the special emphasis placed on the requirement not to offend those who still think in legalistic terms (17:24-27) show that dialogue with the Jewish Synagogue had not yet been broken off. On the other hand, a saying like 27:25 shows that the Christian community had conclusively split with the Synagogue, even though hope for the conversion of Jews was not yet totally dead."
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