In the beginning

Column: Matthew’s account both explains and enhances Mark’s

by Father Mike Stubbs


When I write the initial draft for my column, it often exceeds the word limit. I have to revise it, tighten up the language, to clarify the thoughts as well as bring the article to an acceptable length. That is typical of the writing process.

Matthew’s is the longest of the four Gospels. Because of that, many people used to think that it was the first to be written, an initial draft for the other Gospels. More recently, though, most scholars have concluded that Mark’s Gospel, the shortest, was the first to be written. Matthew based his Gospel largely upon Mark’s, amplifying it by adding other materials and rewriting it to reflect his own theology.

Sunday’s Gospel reading provides us with a good example of that. (There are two possible readings for Easter Sunday morning: Jn 20:1-9, or Mt 28:1-10, which is also used at the Easter Vigil. This article will examine the Matthew reading.)

Matthew’s account of the visit to Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday morning follows the general outline of the story in Mark: The women visit the tomb. They discover that it is empty. They encounter a young man (an angel?) who informs them that Jesus is risen. They receive instructions to share the news with the disciples and to have them travel to Galilee, where they will meet Jesus. While Matthew echoes Mark’s account, Matthew also introduces various details to clarify and explain the story. For example, Mark states that there is a young man at the empty tomb, without telling us his name or his origins. Some scholars link this mysterious figure to the young man who flees during Jesus’ arrest (Mk 14:51). Matthew identifies that young man as the angel of the Lord, whom the women see descend from heaven. Mark describes the young man as being dressed in a white robe. Matthew describes the angel as having an appearance like lightning and clothing white as snow. Mark’s account prompts us to ask questions, while Matthew seeks to answer them.

Like Mark’s Gospel, Matthew’s has the young man/angel instruct the women to inform the disciples about Jesus’ resurrection and have them go to Galilee. But Matthew’s Gospel goes a step further. The risen Jesus appears to the women and repeats that instruction. Matthew’s account of this appearance of the risen Jesus to the women is unique in the Gospels. It reinforces the message of the angel, as well as adds to the drama of the story.

After all, Jesus, who is the focus of the story, has up until now not been visible. He has been conspicuous by his absence. And suddenly, he appears.

Now that’s drama.

In his retelling of Mark’s story, Matthew has added details that sharpen the story and make it more intense, less prosaic. This is more than just a difference in style, a matter of dramatic flair. Matthew wagers that an angel descending from heaven is more likely to catch our attention than a young man who just happens to be at the empty tomb. Matthew wants to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection with great fanfare. He wants everyone to hear.

Father Stubbs is the pastor of
St. Francis de Sales Parish, Lansing.

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Fr. Mike Stubbs

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