It feels bad to give a negative review to a Gospel. But I did not get as much from reading aloud the Gospel according to Matthew as I did from Luke or John.
Why? I’m not sure. But part of it is both Luke and John seem designed to be closely read to a literate Jewish audience as well as verbally heard by non-Jewish audiences. When I read Luke by myself, after reading most of the Hebrew Testament, I was struck by the irony and decentering in the text:
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him,
“Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
He said to them,
“Go and tell that fox for me:
‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’”
And likewise, when reading aloud Luke, the clarity of the Sermon on the Mount and the call-backs and foreshadowing in the narrative demanded attention. John, for his part, wrote a work that felt personal and cutting, employing what I called the rhetoric of the inexplicable. And again, when reading aloud John, I left with another impression: the insistence of the divinity of Christ in the clearest possible terms.
But Matthew… Matthew read aloud to someone not familiar with what came before felt blank. What I took as the emotional height of reading Matthew, the Transfiguration, feels important but oddly so. Christ’s speech during Holy Week receives attention, but it lacks a clear object or reference to hold onto.
Matthew begins with references that make sense if you are already in the world of ancient Canaan. But it is hard to understand without that context. For instance, the book begins with a genealogy, concluding the preceding part of the Scriptures, as genealogies act like “credits.” Likewise, the opening genealogy is an implicit statement of an approaching apocalypse (as the generations from Enoch to Jesus match those until the end of the world in the Book of Enoch).
As another example, the second chapter of Matthew begins with astrology! The “star” appears to be the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, the Creator and the Ruler of the universe:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
When I first read Matthew, I remember thinking it makes a fitting conclusion of the Hebrew Bible. I still believe Matthew is best read in that context.
I read The Gospel According to Matthew in Mark Wauck’s The New Testament: St. Paul Catholic Edition (which I had used in my previous reading of Matthew).