Starting January 12, the Sunday Gospel readings in 2020 come for the most part from the gospel of Matthew. While all the gospels cover similar ground, Matthew’s gospel stands at the door to the New Testament as a bridge from the Old, showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of not only the hopes of the Jews, but of all salvation history. With this in mind, an attentive reading of Matthew’s gospel can help us in what turns out to be a very rich pursuit: it can help us learn to read all Scripture together and in light of Christ.
It was leading a Bible study of Matthew’s gospel — many years ago, the first time I led a study for Catholics — that launched me into writing Bible study material. It became quickly obvious that while everyone was quite familiar with Matthew in general, the many Old Testament references (any there are many!) meant little or nothing to most of the people there. As we slowed way down and dug into the history of Israel, people began to get excited. I’ll never forget the phone calls I got when we next heard that long genealogy from Matthew 1 read at Mass. “Did you hear that? It makes sense!” “It’s not boring!” “I understood it!” They were hooked on reading the Bible — and I was hooked on finding ways to open up the Scriptures so they could enter in. The study questions and talks I prepared for that class became the basis for a study of Matthew I wrote several years later for The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study Program.
Helpful books about Matthew
I’ve read a number of books and commentaries on Matthew over the years, but one in particular stands out for the effect it had on me when I read it. This was a good 20 years ago, and as a convert, I was having a hard time finding Catholics who shared my love of Scripture. A friend sent me Mystery of the Kingdom by Edward Sri. It dove into the Old Testament background of Matthew’s gospel and explored its theology from a Catholic perspective, while at the same time inviting the reader into a relationship with the person of Christ. I was deeply moved and have always been grateful not just for the book itself, but because it assured me there were like-minded people about.
I mention that book now because 20 years later, it’s been updated and released just in time for this year’s focus on Matthew. The new title gets right to the point. It’s God With Us: Encountering Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. If you want just one book to get you started on your reading, I highly recommend it.
Why we read Matthew
Through Matthew, we meet Jesus in his humanity … we learn about the kingdom he established … and we discover what it means to live in that kingdom as a Christian.
Some of the things we know about Jesus come only from Matthew: the annunciation to Joseph, for example, and the Magi’s journey to Bethlehem and the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt (see Mt 2).
Also unique to this gospel are Jesus’s parable of the weeds and of the pearl of great price in Matthew 13, of the laborers in the vineyard in Matthew 20, and others; the accounts of Peter walking on water (Mt 14:28-31) and called “Rock” and given keys to the kingdom (Mt 16) —
— and Jesus’s “great commission” that closes the gospel with a challenge and promise (Mt 28:19-20):
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
You might find it helpful to get an overview of Matthew’s gospel as you prepare to hear it on Sundays. There are lots of great resources available today, including these:
Follow the Sunday readings using the calendar on the USCCB website. You can read or listen to the text and view video reflections.
Subscribe to reflections on the Sunday readings. I love the ones from Gale Somers at Cor Ardens – Scripture Speaks, a ministry of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix. She and I co-wrote two Bible studies together on Genesis and she’s co-author of the Great Adventure study on Galatians.
A study Bible that provide you with an excellent introduction and notes from a Catholic perspective is The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament.
If your Bible does not include introductions to individual books, you might find one of these books helpful. Each in its own style provides a guide to reading every book in the Bible:
- Peter Kreeft, You Can Understand the Bible
- Kenneth Baker, SJ, Inside the Bible
- Antonio Fuentes, A Guide to the Bible
If you’re looking to do a deeper dive, I recommend these commentary series and their volumes on Matthew:
For those who love to read and meditate on Scripture, I can’t say enough about this 3-volume set of meditations by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis: Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word.
Finally, for a highly readable, practical overview of Matthew that really brings it to life, the already-mentioned God With Us: Encountering Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew by Edward Sri.
©2020 Sarah Christmyer
For resources on Bible reading and study in general, download “Build Your Bible Study Library” from the Resources page of this website.
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