Something that so often inspires my prayer is the fact that nothing in New Testament Scripture was actually written by anyone who knew Jesus of Nazareth. We have stories of Jesus that were passed down from generation to generation because those stories spoke to specific issues in Christian communities of the time. A writer of that time and place, in trying to minister to the people of that community, gathers together everything known from the stories about Jesus that that writer thinks will be helpful to the community. Then it is all written down in a particular way and it is named the Gospel of St. John, or of St. Matthew or of other names of followers of Jesus, and this gives a sense of how the Gospel will speak.
It’s why Matthew’s Gospel seems a little demanding and harsh to us. It was written after the Roman military had destroyed Jerusalem and had deeply challenged every part of Judaism and the forming Christian communities. It was written sometime after the destruction of the Jewish Temple, after 70 AD, after people had had some real experience as to how much this event was going to threaten their relationship with the risen Christ. The Gospel’s writer wanted the people of God to know things that would give them strength in their faith life, regarding prayer, how they behaved with each other, reconciliation, giving money, how they would be challenged.
He wanted to remind people, from the beginning of his Gospel, that Jesus stood up to the power of evil, and that, because he did that, Jesus was able to bring us all the victory of God. This Gospel writer wanted all the followers of Christ to know that, in spite of the tough things they faced, through the power of Christ and through living in a certain way in the community of faith, they had nothing to fear because of Christ’s victory.
Matthew wants us to know of the power we have in Christ. I don’t know where you are right now; you might need something different from a Gospel or a letter in the New Testament. But as I have listened to people over the years, as I have listened to my own life of prayer, I see how so often we need to know of the power we are given in Jesus Christ, how Jesus’ victory is our victory. It’s something we need to know when we see the power of evil in our world and in our country, when we face violence in our communities. We need to know that through Christ, we have been given the power to speak to the world of the reality of goodness.
Even with all that there is to make it hard to believe in the power of God through us, if we pray, if we give, if we witness together, we let ourselves be reminded of the work of Jesus of Nazareth and of all the power we have been given to show forth the reality of the victory of Christ. Know of my Lenten prayers for you and my hope for the power of Easter in your life.
--M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE