(The reading of the Passion Narrative because of its length, makes it difficult to preach very long on this Sunday. The following are not meant as homilies but perhaps more preparation for our celebration of this Sunday.)
Raymond Brown begins his reflection on the Passion Narratives with this general observation: “Every year during Holy Week the liturgy of the Church exposes us to a bit of biblical criticism by appointing two different passion narratives to be read within a short period.” In Cycles A, B, and C we hear the Passion according to Matthew, then Mark, then Luke. “…while on Good Friday every year we hear the Passion according to John. ‘Those who have ears to hear’ should notice that the two narratives which are read in a given year do not offer the same picture of the crucifixion of Jesus in either content or outlook.” He then goes on to consider the importance of that observation.
Roger Karban in NCR March 29, 2014“We must constantly be aware that each of our four evangelists writes from the perspective of a unique theology. Each looks at and writes about Jesus from an original point of view, often contradicting the theology of those who wrote before or who would write afterward. It’s in this context that I frequently remind my Scripture students of the late Avery Dulles’ sharply worded aside during St. Louis University’s 1969 Bellarmine Lecture. “Had there been a Holy Office at the time the Gospels were written,” the well-known theologian said, “we Catholics would have just one Gospel in our Bibles: Mark, because it was the first. But in our history books we’d often find references to three notorious early Christian heretics named Matthew, Luke and John.”
Personally I have found it very beneficial to read short characterizations of the Gospel writers in general and of their Passion narratives in particular. In a Catholic Update , “The four faces of Jesus” Virginia Smith, characterizes the four different Gospel accounts of Jesus this way: “Mark’s harried, hurried human Jesus;” “Matthew’s new Moses: Jesus, the teacher;” “Luke’s compassionate, forgiving Jesus;” and “John’s noble, majestic, divine Jesus.”
In one folio of Scripture from Scratch, Ronald D. Witherup, “The Passion of Jesus” characterizes the four accounts this way: “Spartan Mark,” “Eloquent Matthew,” “Passionate Luke,” and “Majestic John.” He makes the summary point, “Whether spartan, eloquent, poignant, or majestic they all seek to present faithfully the tradition they have inherited.” He goes on to say we should avoid the tendency to blend them into one seamless story. We should ask what we learn anew from each retelling and from each individual evangelist.
MATTHEW heightens the dignity and majestic quality of Jesus throughout his Passion account.
The identity of Jesus is not hidden as in Mark, so the dramatic quality of the unfolding of Jesus’ identity is lessened. The drama of Matthew lies in Jesus’ rejection by those he came to save.
Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel confronts the Jewish religious authority with a vigorous challenge. There is a generally negative portrayal of those described as “the Jews”. There are the incidents of “his blood be upon us and our children,” the incident of securing a guard from Pilate, the incident of the chief priests offering money and telling soldiers to lie.
These passages and some in John have led to anti-Semitism. Only at the Second Vatican Council was the description of the Jews as “Christ killers” rejected totally.
Matthew wrote in a period of the Church characterized by extreme tension with Judaism.
The Gospel ends not only with the promise as in Mark, but with fulfillment.
Some people are more developed in Matthew: Judas (motive of betrayal, supper, suicide); Pilate (wife’s dream, washing of hands, choice of Barabbas or Jesus); Peter (“never deny”, “wept bitterly”.
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