March 5, 2023 at Saint Sebastian Parish, Ft Lauderdale, FL Opening of Lenten Parish Mission
Genesis 12, 1-4 + Psalm 33 + 2 Timothy 1, 8-10 + Matthew 17, 1-9
At Monsignor’s invitation, I’ve come over from Naples where I have retired like most other people there after serving in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City for fifty years. I want to introduce you to someone who has a lot to say to us at this particular time in history. In December, with the beginning of Advent, we gave him a voice, and from now until the third of December, he will speak to us week after week revealing God’s plan for us and how God’s first plan, ruined by sin, could be restored.
We don’t really know his name, but we have figured out a few details about him that allow us to dig deep into the treasure he left us. It was sometime between the year 80 and 90 that this obviously devout follower of Jesus sat down somewhere with
1 a few sayings of Jesus preserved by a folks who had actually heard Jesus speak,
2. with a few notes about customs and events that actually happened at the time of Jesus
3. and then finally with an early copy of something called; “The Good News” by man named Mark.
Whoever he was, with remarkable skill he wove these three sources together to produce a literary masterpiece the we call: “The Gospel of Matthew.”
He was just what was needed at the time, and I think we need him now just as much as they did then. It was a difficult and challenging time. Some could call it a crisis. The first generation “church” was strictly Jewish at the time. Suddenly, those Jewish followers of what many called, “The Way” found themselves at odds with everything they had known in the past. Out of nowhere, they found themselves in a polarized world that affected everything from family life to the local synagogue where they were no longer welcome. Gentiles were coming to seek a place among them wanting to follow the “Way” of Jesus. These foreigners did not speak their language. They could not and would not embrace the old ways. There was a big shift taking place that demanded a new and fresh look at the old traditions that offered a new way of looking at Christ that was not quite so “Jewish”. The old timers, those first Jewish converts suddenly were beginning to wonder if they had made a mistake, and they needed reassurance that what was happening was God’s plan. The Old Testament, which is all they had as a guide, their sense of Salvation’s movement, discipleship, and morality were all up for grabs and needed a new look.
This man sat down to provide some guidance to the church, some wisdom, and a new way to emerge from this crisis faithful to God’s will. Over time, he gets the name, “Matthew”. There is no reason at all to think that he is the same “Matthew” that appears as an Apostle in the story. In fact, that Matthew would have been too old to write it all. What we know is that he was very well educated. He used Greek is though it was his first language, and it is a much more polished Greek than what would have been found in those three sources he had at hand. His style in the language suggests that he may have been in Antioch or Syria.
Whatever, I am hoping to spend some time with you exploring what he left us becoming carefully aware that each of the Gospels has a different theme and purpose so that as you spend this year with Matthew’s Gospel you might more fruitfully hear and understand what is revealed. All of us over time have conflated all four Gospels into one in our heads making it very difficult to tease out the unique themes, issues, that each evangelist proposes. Sunday night, Monday, and Tuesday, I want to help you get better acquainted with this man and his message. He speaks to us today just as clearly and powerfully as he first did to that polarized and challenged community facing change they could never have predicted or controlled.
There is a natural division in his Gospel that sets us up for this week. The beginning that tells of Birth of Christ leading to his Baptism and public ministry. Then there is the Ministry and Preaching of Jesus that makes up the middle section that is divided into Five Sermons or you could call them, “Books. You know the first one: “The Sermon on the Mount.” Today’s Gospel came from the Fourth Book which is about the identity of Jesus. The last night, Tuesday, we will reflect on the Passion of Christ as Matthew tells it which is a perfect way to prepare for what we shall soon remember in Holy Week.
So, I invite you to join me. I encourage you to bring a Bible with you. I think you will be surprised at what you never saw or heard before, and how it all fits together. For instance, Matthew told us just now that this Transfiguration happened after six days. In other words, it is the seventh day. That detail places this incident in the context of a creation story: Jesus went up the mountain with his friends on the seventh day, the day of completion. Having just shared a hard teaching about his suffering and disfiguration, Jesus allowed them a glimpse of the future of all creation in the Transfiguration. While Mark and Luke give similar accounts of this moment, Matthew uses the Greek word that comes into English as metamorphosis. In Greek mythology, metamorphosis was what happened when the gods took on human form. There’s something to think about until we meet again. You might notice one other thing here. The disciples who are there are the same ones who go to the Garden with Jesus after the Last Supper. They are very slow to get their faith together, but by showing us their slow growth in faith, he encourages us who are sometime just as slow.