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St Matthew - The First Evangelist

September 21, 2016

From Jewish tax collector named Levi, to the first of the Evangelists, we today celebrate the feast of St. Matthew

St. Matthew’s feast day is celebrated on September 21. His is the first gospel ever written, and tradition has it that it the only New Testament text not written in Greek, but in Aramaic, probably before the year 50, the date of the Council of Jerusalem when most apostles left Palestine.

This is the first of the synoptic gospel, similar to Sts. Mark and Luke. Yet, the variations are noticeable in that, writing at an early period for Jewish converts of Palestine, St. Matthew emphasizes the messianic prophecies to assert that they point to Jesus Christ. Yet, for that, he did not leave out His divine character. At Christ’s Baptism and on Mount Thabor, at the Mount of the temptation by the devil or with the affirmation of St. Peter, everything is written to suggest that Jesus is God.

Among the events specific to St. Matthew's text, we need to mention the Gospel of the Infancy of Christ which relates the killing of the Innocents by Herod the Cruel, and the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem. Perhaps most importantly, we should emphasize the discourse on the Mount, the "Magna Carta" of the new legislation, is given in full.

Perhaps the discourse at Cesarea Philippi is the most famous. Our Lord went out with his Apostles apart from the indiscrete ears. He asked them the great question: “But whom do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou are Christ the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answering, said to him:
 

Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou are Peter; and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.”

A running commentary may be in order so as to understand some of the depth of what Christ imposed upon Peter.
 

  1. He is called Simon Peter, and this unique use of the two names, his Jewish and his apostolic name, at the foundation of the Church, is worth any birth certificate.
  2. Christ is called by Simon “the Son of the living God,” or in the original Hebrew “the Son of the Living One” since the Jews would never use the term of Yahweh. Simon is making a confession of Christ’s divinity, which is clearly indicated by the reply of Our Lord.
  3. Flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee.” This refers to the clearly supernatural revelation which Simon received at this juncture. It is as if Our Lord said: “This is no human knowledge which suggested this confession of my divinity.”
  4. Thou art Peter and upon this rock.” The original Aramaic shows better the play on words: “Thou are Kepha and on this kepha,” and the proper English rendition would be: “Thou are Rock and upon this rock…” This play on words is important in showing that Peter is set by Christ to become the rock of His Church. Christ changes his name which signifies his new mission: to be the foundation stone of His church.
  5. My church.” This expression is parallel to those where Christ claims the ownership of his kingdom, angels, or supper. This suggests his sovereign power over His—not Peter’s—Church. Likewise, in John 21, Christ asks Peter to feed His lambs and His sheep, not Peter’s sheep.
  6. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Hell, the power and kingdom of Satan and his angels, will assail the newly born church to destroy it. Persecution is a mark of the true Church, prey to the enemy’s constant ambush, but Christ promises stability and indefectibility to His Church.
  7. “The keys of the kingdom of heaven.” The keys which have power to bind and loose indicate the function of Peter judge and ruler whose authority is also ratified in heaven.
     

Today, these divine promises given to Peter may sound strange given the current ecclesiastical landscape. Perhaps it is time for us to utter the prayer of the early Church asking for the release of Peter in chains.