This is the last Sunday in the church year. I like that the church year does not follow the calendar year. It goes in its own direction; it sets its own pace.
For most people, the church year is a three-year cycle. Each year focuses on one of the most similar (or 'synoptic') gospel accounts. This past year was Matthew; this next year will be Mark.
I brought this name up several months ago, that of Papias, an early follower of Christ--can you believe it that this guy actually knew the apostle John?! Papias refers to the writings of both Matthew and Mark in his 'fragments'. I would imagine that some people are complaining that he does not mention the writings of Luke or John and how they came about, but I think both of those writers are very clear within their works of both their purposes and intent (Luke 1:1-4; John 20:30-31). The only basic unanswered questions have to deal with Matthew and Mark.
If you will allow me to translate with a certain amount of freedom--especially allowing me to give more than one word for a certain word in the original language, I would like to offer this translation of what Papias says of Matthew:
'Therefore, Matthew, on the one hand, in a Hebrew dialect, arranged the speeches [of Jesus] in an organized manner, and, on the other hand, each one interpreted them as each was able (3:16).'
Every translation falls short in some way. There is the saying that 'a translator is a traitor'! Some important things are left out, and some unimportant things are added. But, before we leave Matthew for a couple years, I would like to make one more appeal to look at the five discourses (or sermons) of Jesus and to see a Hebrew style or structure to them. (I realize this means that you have to look at both the Old Testament and the New to see what is really going on, but it ultimately the whole thing is by one author anyway. How can you NOT benefit by looking at it some more?)
And the direction of Matthew is in sharp contrast to the structure of the Gospel according to Mark. And just a little bit of what Papias says about him is instructive--and I will hope you will allow the same freedom as above.
'Mark ... wrote with a strict conformity to a standard or norm, with focus on careful attention, though not in a fixed succession, of the things of Christ either said or done (3:15).'
There is another 'standard' with Mark, another order that we can see within the text. It is certainly not one of Jesus as a talker. He basically saves his one sermon until the very end, almost right before the Last Supper. At that point he is dealing with the end of the world.
No matter how much these first two gospel accounts are opposites, they still work together to provide a picture of a caring, versatile, energetic, large-scale Savior from sin. And that is needed as we admit that we are in the last days....