New Commentary Shows How Matthew’s Gospel Holds Key to Good News

BOOK PICK: Behold the Christ: Proclaiming the Gospel of Matthew

(photo: Cropped book cover)


Proclaiming the Gospel of Matthew

By Leroy A. Huizenga

Emmaus Road Publishing, 2019

xxii + 424 pages,  $27.95; also, e-book, $18.95

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The Church’s Sunday Gospels rotate over three years among the three Synoptics, and 2020 is the year of St. Matthew. Last year, Leroy A. Huizenga provided the faithful with a fitting commentary on this year’s featured Gospel. Behold the Christ: Proclaiming the Gospel of Matthew is a great book for Catholics wanting to get more deeply into the Sunday Gospel. One of its plusses is that its author neatly marks out sections of his commentary according to their use in the Lectionary, both Sunday and weekday, e.g., “Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time/Friday Week 18.”

Huizenga, associate professor of theology at the University of Mary in North Dakota, blends contemporary scholarship with solid Catholic theology in this commentary. I note this because, after Vatican II, a lot of biblical scholarship so veered into redaction criticism that some scholars’ speculations were more subversive than constructive of faith. Huizenga correctly recognizes that the Bible is the work of the Church, its final form the product of ecclesiastical confirmation. It’s not a museum piece, much less shards or ruins retrieved from antiquity. It is read in the Church.

Huizenga departs from the view of many contemporary Scripture scholars who posit the primacy of Mark (and the mysterious “Q” document which is seen as a source text for much that is in the Gospels.). Huizenga holds the “priority” of Matthew: “The Gospels are the theological center of the canon of Scripture,” he writes, “and the Gospel of Matthew stands first among the Gospels.”

“When we read the story of the Gospel of Matthew, we find the Gospel not only pointing backward — as it interprets the Old Testament and Judaism through Jesus’ words and deeds — but also forward,” Huizenga notes. “Its final words, the Great Commission, where Jesus commands his disciples to ‘make disciples of all nations’ … are … oriented to the future, to the Church’s time of mission.”

This book is learned but not dense: Readers will find it thought-provoking, both in digging deeper into Matthew’s text, explaining events, allusions and references, as well as in providing a broader theological context that applies the Gospel’s message to our spiritual lives.

Take, for instance, Huizenga’s commentary on Matthew 17, the Gospel of the Transfiguration, read on the Second Sunday of Lent. Traditional Catholic teaching sees the Transfiguration as a glimpse of Jesus’ future glory, previewing what was to come after his passion and death. It appears in the Gospel after Peter’s confession of Jesus’ divinity, after which Jesus foretells his coming sufferings and earns Peter’s remonstrance, for which Christ rebukes him. The Transfiguration text stands in continuity with that message, attested by the Father’s voice: “This is my beloved Son. … Listen to him.” Huizenga draws connections to the Passion: “The voice tells Peter to ‘listen to him’: the most recent thing Jesus said concerned his Passion and the necessity of taking up the cross to follow him. Peter denied the necessity of the cross in the prior passage, and Jesus taught him and the other disciples about its very necessity for himself and for them.’”

This book is full of such nuggets, while also recognizing the situation of Catholics in today’s world. That’s why, in his opening chapter on “Preaching Matthew’s Gospel in a Postmodern Age,” Huizenga notes how Matthew is at odds with modernity: “In our postmodern times, the spirit of the age runs counter to the spirit of the Gospel of Matthew at every turn. For our moment finds itself spiritual and not religious, hostile to ritual, rules, and righteousness. It rejects any constraints and boundaries. It seeks affirmation and not salvation. It even attempts to recruit Jesus himself as a mascot for its views and desires instead of submitting to Jesus as Master.”

For Matthew, there is but one remedy: submitting to the Jesus he proclaims, the true “son of David, son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). This book is a powerful aid to that end.

John M. Grondelski writes from Falls Church, Virginia.

All views are exclusively his.