As well as Jewish worshippers, Matthew’s congregation seems to have included Gentiles, and clues from his Gospel suggest a significant number of Zoroastrians. His church was probably Syrian, and Zoroastrianism began in Iran but was a huge and powerful world religion in Bible times – later decimated by Muslim persecution.
Matthew seems to have been writing to both affirm and challenge the different cultural elements within his congregation. The Magi were Zoroastrians, and their homage to Jesus, inspired by their own traditions, is welcomed and accepted. Some of their other teachings – such as the broad and flowery way of righteousness – are challenged. Other beliefs – such as that the world was once smooth, and turbulent spiritual struggle made its mountains and ravines, and once righteousness is attained it will be made smooth again – are seen as fulfilled in the person and power of Jesus.
Is your congregation mainly one type of person, or does it hold in balance clearly defined sections of cultural types, or is it an eclectic mix of all kinds? Is the balance between all the people harmonious? How is this harmony maintained, or how could it be improved?
If you had Matthew’s job of writing the gospel of Jesus for your church
congregation, what aspects of the life of Jesus would you like to emphasize and bring out, and why? The Zoroastrian Gentiles must have been really pleased to see their Magi given an important part in the opening chapters. To whom would you like to give a special part, to affirm people in your congregation? Matthew gives the scribes and the Pharisees a very hard time because of their hypocrisy. Are there any shortcomings in your own church culture that you would like to critique and highlight in your gospel?
Matthew also puts himself and his own call to faith in his Gospel (Matthew 9:9– 10). What story would you tell about your call to follow Jesus, in your gospel?
O God and Father of all, in Jesus you draw together the people of every time and culture into one household of faith and love. Forgive us when we have been prejudiced or suspicious of our neighbours and fellow believers because of their cultural differences. Open our eyes to the value and beauty of their humanity and their faith. We give thanks for the great work of reconciliation wrought for us and all creation in Jesus’ saving death on the cross. May we set the power of his cross at the heart of our lives and faith, and live every day in the light of his mercy, humility, and grace. We ask it for his love’s sake; Amen.