Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January 1, 2014 - Matthew Chapter 1

January 1, 2008 - The Gospel According to Matthew Chapter 1

General comment: The most profitable approach to reading the four Gospels will be realized by avoiding the temptation to treat them as history. While they do contain some historic material, the better way to read them is one which seeks spiritual meaning - to "see" truth conveyed through the stories, to comprehend what the author wants us to know about Jesus as Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, and teacher of justice, mercy and compassion. In instances where an historic reference is important to the meaning of the text, I will make an appropriate comment. Remember, truth is not just the fact of 2 + 2 = 4, it is also what may be conveyed from words, music, art, and even dreams in the night.

There are two major sections of Chapter 1: The genealogy of Jesus and Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. Matthew's intent in both sections is to establish Jesus' Messianic credentials, through his hereditary lineage and the special nature of his birth.

Mt 1:1-17 The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah

A. The genealogy serves to establish two important teachings of the early church:

(1) Jesus' heritage is thoroughly rooted in the great saga of Israel, from the time of the first Patriarch, Abraham, called and blessed by God (Genesis 17:1-8), to the establishment of the united kingdom of Israel and the royal line of David (2 Samuel 7:11b-16), to the Babylonian exile (587-539 BCE), to the birth (4-6 BCE) of the Messiah ("Christ" in Greek).

(2) By doing so, Matthew has placed Jesus as the inheritor and fulfillment of two covenants, the one made between God and Abraham whereby Abraham's offspring will be the recipients of God's blessing and promises, and the second with David that his offspring will reign as King. For Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of God's covenants with Abraham and David - he is the Messiah in whose life and ministry God's justice and righteousness will begin to reign and in whom God's ancient promises of peace will be realized for all humanity.

For Matthew this is no accident of unrelated historic events. God is somehow involved behind the scenes, working through the raw material of flawed humanity to accomplish the ultimate goal of a transformed world, in which peace, justice and abundance will abound in a new Messianic age. And this is not for Israel only, but for all peoples of the Earth. Abraham's seed (offspring) is blessed and that is understood by Judaism and early Christianity as universal, for Jew and Gentile alike (Romans 9-11).

Matthew has used the genealogy of Jesus as a demonstration of this universal "Kingdom (reign) of God. Look closely at the 4 women he includes: Tamar, a Canaanite, widowed daughter-in-law of Judah, plays the prostitute and seduces Judah to become pregnant; Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute of Jericho who facilitates the Israelite spies' and so all the Israelites' entry into the "Promised Land;" Ruth, the Moabite, (a people originating from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters) who seduces Boaz on the threshing room floor and whose child will be the grandfather of King David; and Bathsheba, who commits adultery with King David and whose second son, Solomon, will be the King after David. All four of these women through "unconventional" sexual relations have contributed to the line which will, through David and finally Joseph, end in the birth of Jesus the Messiah who will usher in the promised beginnings of God's reign. These women, even as does Jesus' mother Mary, also serve as a statement of what God can do through the least likely people to forward the promises first made to Abraham, a reality we would do well to remember when we think we are not capable, good enough, to do God's work in the world.

Matthew 1:18-25 The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

This Messiah will not be born in an Herodian palace, but in a humble house in Bethlehem (house of bread) in Judea, of the tribe of Judah, to a young maiden (Isaiah 7:14) named Mary, under suspicious circumstances. Step one of marriage in Jesus' time was the marriage "contract" or betrothal (engagement). The second step was the bringing of the bride to the groom's home to consummate the marriage. As much as a year might pass between these two steps. But, Mary is found to be pregnant before she comes to live with Joseph. Matthew tells us that this in no ordinary child, this child is "through" (not of or by) the Holy Spirit. And although Joseph could have brought capital charges of adultery against Mary, he chose another available path, to divorce her quietly.

But through an angelic vision, Joseph is told of the true nature of this blessed event, that Mary's child, his child, is from the Holy Spirit and he is to be named Jesus - Yehoshua (Joshua), one who saves, and all of this as a fulfillment, a bringing to pass the prophetic voice of Isaiah who has proclaimed that the people will call this child Emmanuel, "God with us."

And so it is, according to Matthew. A child is born through the creative act of God, through the Holy Spirit, the very creative breath of God in Genesis 1:1, that brings into being all that is, now in this age, and for all humanity, brings forth this new life destined to be for us the Christ, the one who offers the possibility for a new day, a new age for all who will follow his way, God with us.

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