SAINT MATTHEW - MODEL FOR RENEWALWhy is Saint Matthew’s Gospel in the #1 spot in the New Testament? The first reason may be that it links up so well with the Old Testament. Not only the genealogy that begins Chapter 1 by tracing our roots to Abraham, but throughout his Gospel there are many references to Jesus' teaching fulfilling the Old Law and building upon it. Look for example, at the refrain in Chap. 5 "You have heard it was said...."in vv. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43 followed by "but I say to you...." There are many other ways that Jewish Christians would have understood Jesus as the new Moses by what Matthew chose to include in his Gospel.
There is even a line spoken by Jesus that we only find in this Gospel which sums up this point: "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (13:52). This line appropriately describes Saint Matthew himself - not a bad reason for him to include it!
It is a temptation sometimes for Christians to ignore the Old Testament with the mistaken generality "That's the mean God. I prefer the nice God, the merciful One that Jesus talks about." This isn't a new temptation or mistake. There was a heretical teacher named Marcion in the 2nd Century who tried to rid Christianity of the Old Testament for that very reason.
Recently at our St. Anthony's Shelter for Renewal in the Bronx, we were discussing the role of Our Lady during our weekly Bible study. One of our homeless guests asked, "Couldn't God have picked any woman to be the mother of His Son?" Another homeless man, who is Protestant, quickly replied, "No, she had to be from the House of David." That was a helpful introduction from a surprising source to be able to speak with them about God's plan from all eternity and how He gradually brought it about in the fullness of time through Our Lady's “yes.” This is just one of a million examples why it is helpful to know the Old Testament in order to really appreciate the New Testament. At the same time, we believe that the Old Testament cannot be understood correctly without the New.
The history of Sacred Tradition in the Church follows a similar principle. There must be continuity between old and new for authentic renewal to take place. There is a maxim in theology that "the Church's teaching must change to remain the same." We believe that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever," but the language that draws us into the mystery of the God-man may be adapted and updated to speak to every age.
Recently two of our friars attended a Mass in Latin in Manhattan (nice rhyme, eh?) where the priest was preaching about openness to the Charismatic gifts (which I presume included other tongues besides Latin). I think Saint Matthew would enjoy that kind of mix - the treasures old and new.
Every reform in religious life seeks to follow this same principle of dynamic continuity. One Church historian said that the success of the Capuchin reform in the early 1500's was due to their ability to bring the ideals of the early Franciscans into their age and respond to the needs of the Church at that time. Our Community of Franciscans of the Renewal has a similar goal.
The same principle applies to one's spiritual life in many ways. Although we are called to put on the new man who is Christ without compromise, His grace builds upon nature. It is evident from his Gospel that Saint Matthew had an eye for detail, legal knowledge, a sense of history, a gift of persuasion, and an investigative sense. It's reasonable to imagine that all of these gifts were developed because of his years as a Jewish tax collector. God's plan in the history of each individual is also an adventure of dynamic continuity.
"Something old, something new, something gray, something blue...." - or something like that.
Fr. Richard Roemer, CFR
St. Crispin Friary
Bronx, New York