Chapter 66: Matthew Presents the New Moses

This year the Gospel texts for Sundays of Ordinary Time are taken from Matthew. We give the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, a variety of names: The Pentateuch, the Books of the Law or the Five Books of Moses. At one time it was suggested that Moses actually wrote them. We now realise that he did not.

In his Gospel, Matthew sets out to portray Jesus as the New Moses. He models his Gospel on these Five Books and tells the story of Jesus’ deeds and teaching in five books. Each book ends with, “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Go to these texts. 7: 29; 11: 1; 13: 53; 19: 1; 26; 1.

Let us look at how Matthew portrays Jesus, drawing parallels from the Old Testament. The wicked king of Egypt ordered the midwives, who helped the Hebrew women to give birth, to kill all the male babies. (Ex 2: 15) According to Matthew something similar happened at the time Jesus was born. When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, they foolishly asked Herod, the ruling King, “Where is the new born king of the Jews?” Most kings do not take kindly to being told that a rival has come on the scene. Neither did Herod. He ordered all the little boys in Bethlehem to be killed. As things turned out both Moses and Jesus were saved; Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter, and Jesus by Joseph taking him and his mother to Egypt. Matthew further strengthens his argument by telling us, “He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.” (2: 15 and Hos 11: 1)

This is not the first time the evangelist quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to emphasise that Jesus is fulfilling what the prophets had said. It will not be the last time that he uses this technique. As you go through the Gospel you will find more instances where he quotes from the Old Testament.

Moses journeyed with the Hebrew people from Egypt and Matthew has Joseph being instructed, “Rise, and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.” If Matthew wanted to portray Jesus as the New Moses then he had to have him following the same route into Israel.

“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so it turned into dry land. The Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.” (Ex 14: 21 -22) Picture the Israelites climbing the beach on the other side.

At the start of Jesus’ ministry he also passes through the waters of John’s baptism. “After Jesus was baptised, he came up out of the water and behold the heavens opened, and a voice came from the heavens saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (3: 16-17) When God instructs Moses on the message he is to deliver to Pharaoh he says, “So you shall say to Pharaoh: Thus says the Lord, Israel is my son, my first-born. Hence I tell you: let my son go.” By alluding to this text Matthew leaves us in no doubt as to the identity of Jesus and his relationship with God. (Ex 4: 22)

Possibly one of the most significant parallels is when Moses brought ten plagues down on Egypt. On the contrary, Jesus, the New Moses, brings ten healings to the community; he cleanses the leper, cures the centurion’s servant, heals many people, calms the storm, frees the Gadarene demoniac, cures the paralytic, raises the daughter of the synagogue official from the dead, restores the haemorrhaging woman, gives sight to two blind men and gives hearing and speech to the dumb man. (Mt 8 & 9)

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