By David Philippart
Sunday, January 29
This year, 2017, is a year that we open the Gospel of Matthew on most our Sundays, proclaiming the good news that love is stronger than death and that death is only a kind of birth into a new way of living that lasts forever. This good news, this gospel, is shared with us across centuries by a community of Jewish Christians that lived between the years of 80 and 110 CE. The community had come to know Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of God who blazes that trail from life to death to new life for us, and bids us follow. They came to experience the Risen Christ as the fulfillment of their hopes, and they were beginning to experience a friction with other Jews who did not believe as they did. The Gospel of Matthew gives witness to the beginning of the separation between Jews and Christians that will lead to the evil disasters of the persecution of Jews by Christians in medieval Europe and Hitler’s Holocaust.
Yet the Gospel of Matthew is the most Jewish of the gospels! The community that gave birth to this gospel and the author who wrote it down are well-versed in the Torah and the writings of the Prophets. Not only does the Gospel of Matthew quote both Law and Prophets prodigiously, its literary structure itself points to the Torah. The Torah consists of five books—what we know as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In the Gospel of Matthew, the rabbi Jesus gives five major lessons or teachings, called “discourses” in scripture study. While these do not correspond one-to-one to the five books of Torah, the intent is clear. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets,” we will hear Jesus say in two weeks, on Sunday, February 12. “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.”
Beginning today, and on the four Sundays that follow, we engage the first of these five discourses of Jesus. (See the box on the right for the list of the five discourses and when we will engage with each one.) Proclaiming, preaching, pondering and practicing these five bodies of teachings make us into adopted sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus and each other, servants of humanity, especially the poor and vulnerable.
This first discourse we call “the Sermon on the Mount,” though it’s really a discourse on discipleship. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? And what do disciples of Jesus do? So keep your ears attuned to the gospel today and these next four weeks. Find yourself to be the kind of person Jesus calls us to be. Challenge yourself to become the kind of person God made you to be.
Today we hear today only the prologue to the Sermon on the Mount, “the Beatitudes.” Yet this prologue is the ultimate description of a disciple of Jesus. In helping the families of a loved one who has died choose the readings for their loved one’s funeral over the years, I’ve noticed that often the families of an elder who lived a long and good life choose this gospel passage. It “fits” this marvelous 70 or 80 or 90 year old follower of Jesus who has passed from life through death to new life. Leadership teacher Stephen Covey used to lead his students in an exercise imagining their 80th birthday party, “What would you want people to say about you on this grand occasion?” he would ask. For we who are baptized—and for the ten of us who are preparing to be baptized this Easter—the Beatitudes would be the perfect summary of a disciple’s life well-lived And notice: It’s nine blessings plus one command (“Rejoice!”). The Beatitudes are the Christian addition to the Ten Commandments. Blessed indeed are we who are called to baptized living!
When We Hear Jesus’ Five Discourses
1. Teaching on Discipleship
Matthew 5-7 Today and February 2017
2. Teaching on Mission
Matthew 10 June 25-July 9, 2017
3. Teaching with Parables
Matthew 13 July 16, 23, 30, 2017
4. Teaching on Community
Matthew 18 September 10, 2017
5. Teaching on the End of Time
Matthew 23-25 November, 2017
David Philippart serves you as Liturgy Director. Catch him after Mass, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at 312-831-9367