Matt’s Top Ten

21 Sep

Today, in honor of the feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, I thought I would provide my top ten list of favorite Gospel passages found exclusively in St. Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew has some of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture, including the visit of the Magi (Mt. 2:1-12) and the breathtaking Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), as well as some of the most troubling, such as the massacre of the Innocents (Mt. 2:16-17), Judas’ suicide (Mt. 27:3-5), and the people’s acceptance of responsibility for Jesus’ execution (Mt. 27:25).

I went through the entire Gospel and identified the following ten passages unique to Matthew that I found the most inspiring. I hope you agree!

(1) Matthew 1:23 “’Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Not only does Matthew apply the prophecy of Isaiah to Jesus and Mary, but adds for emphasis the meaning of the title “Emmanuel”: God is with us! Earlier in the genealogy (Mt. 1:1-17), Christ is identified as the long-awaited Messiah who embodies the promises made to Abraham and David. Now we also discover that the anointed one is God Himself, who has chosen to make His dwelling with us (see John 1:14).

(2) Matthew 4:12-16 “Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’”

I love this application of Isaiah 9 to the early stages of Christ’s ministry, as He begins His kingdom-building mission with the region that was the first to fall to the Assyrian invaders. I like to meditate on this passage when I feel that I’m in darkness or the “shadow of death.”

(3) Matthew 5:3-12 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Now, I am “cheating” a little bit, because Luke 6 contains the Beatitudes in modified form. Yet, I think Matthew’s presentation is the gold standard, as it uniquely calls forth the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers, thereby setting the tone for the entire Sermon on the Mount.

(4) Matthew 6:5-8 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

While Luke’s Gospel may be better known for its teaching on prayer, Matthew does give us this gem, which challenges us to be humble and sincere in our prayer. I also like this passage for another reason: It’s been used by some Christians to denigrate some traditional forms of prayer, such as the Rosary, calling it an example of “vain repetition.” The way to respond to such charges is not to ignore or dismiss them, but to go deeper in our own understanding of what the Church teaches. For more on this particular issue, check out this Faith Fact from Catholics United for the Faith.

(5) Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This is one of the most consoling messages in all of Scripture, let alone the Gospel of St. Matthew. This passage is especially meaningful when we feel weary or beaten down by the world. Jesus’s message simply is to come to Him for refreshment and peace!

(6) The parables in Matthew 13

There are several parables in Matthew 13 that are unique to this Gospel, including the Weeds Among the Wheat (vv. 24-30), the Hidden Treasure (v. 44), the Pearl of Great Price (vv. 45-46), and the Net (vv. 47-50). All these parables call us to a greater spiritual discernment, to go beyond what we might see on the surface of our lives.

I’m especially edified by the parables that challenge us to sell everything—to be “all in” when it comes to following Christ: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

(7) Matthew 16:17-19 “And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’”

St. Peter’s confession of faith in Matthew 16:16 is found in the other Gospels (Mk. 8:29; Lk. 9:20; Jn. 6:69), but Our Lord’s striking words in response, recorded in verses 17-19 above, are unique to Matthew. They provide solid biblical support not only for the papacy, but also more fundamentally for the idea that Christ Himself established the Church as the instrument of salvation for the whole world.

(8) Matthew 18 nuggets

Matthew 18 contains some beautiful teachings of Our Lord—some found in other Gospels, some unique to Matthew. One example is verse 10: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 18:10 has traditionally been cited in support of the Church teaching on the guardian angels (see Catechism, no. 336).  (This verse is followed by the invisible verse 11—check it out, I’m not kidding!)

There is also the consoling verse 20, which reminds us of Our Lord’s presence whenever the Church gathers for prayer: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

(9) Matthew 25:31-46 (for this longer passage, click here)

This passage concerning the Last Judgment forms the basis for the corporal works of mercy. Even more, it identifies the spiritual underpinnings of the vital social outreach of the Church: namely, when we reach out to one of our brothers or sisters in their misery, we are serving Christ Himself. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta profoundly understood this truth; we do well to go deeper on this point ourselves.

(10) Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.’”

This passage is known as the “great commission.” There is a commission at the end of Mark as well, but the version recorded in Matthew in my estimation more fully summarizes the Church’s missionary mandate to baptize and form disciples in every age, with the kicker—hearkening back to the first passage on this list—that Christ will always be with His Church.

Well, that’s my list. Did I miss one of your favorites?

St. Matthew, pray for us!

3 Responses to “Matt’s Top Ten”

  1. Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle September 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    Great post!

  2. Richard Grebenc September 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    In Matthew 8:5-13, Jesus was amazed (or “marveled”) at the faith of the centurion who asked for healing for his servant. This word (in the Greek ἐθαύμασεν or ethaumasen) is used as a way to describe Jesus’ reaction in only one episode in the Bible (here and its telling in Luke 7). Thus I imagine it takes a lot to amaze Jesus. Will he marvel at our faith?

  3. Kathleen Conklin September 22, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    Thanks for this Leon. It is a great post. I appreciate you showing us the particular impact of Matthew. You asked for a favorite. One of mine is Matthew 15:21-28. It is the story of the Canaanite woman. Some find it hard to reconcile with Jesus’ words. But when I begin with the truth that Jesus is love and always acts in love, the passage is fascinating. He holds this woman up as a model of strength, faith and love. She allows him to use her as an instrument and everyone learns.

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