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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Living the Nativity: The First Family Tree

As those of you who read our last blog post know, we have started an experiment at Central. We have decided that instead of simply believing in Jesus, we would try and live out what he taught (in honesty, humility, and forthrightness) by both word and example. We decided to begin our new journey with Jesus by starting in the gospel of Matthew and working clear through to the end of John in an attempt to try and figure out what the core of the Christian way of life is, so that we can follow Jesus authentically and deliberately.

Well, as I sat down with my Bible and began reading, it occurred to me that Jesus doesn't "do" anything in the first couple chapters of Matthew's gospel (not even so much as a peep from the little eight pound six ounce baby Jesus laying there in his golden fleece). Jesus' first words recorded in Matthew don't come until near the end of the third chapter! In the first two, Matthew treats Jesus like a prop. Here he not only sets Jesus firmly in the history of the Hebrew people (in David's lineage!), he makes Jesus' life a microcosm of the history of the Hebrew people (complete with his own mini-pharaoh in the person of King Herod). It seems for Matthew Jesus isn't just a Hebrew person, he is the Hebrew people.

In the entire first chapter, Matthew traces Jesus family tree through his "not his dad's" side and it reads like a Who's Who of the Hebrew Bible composed by a genealogist suffering from OCD (especially considering that some ancestors had to be left off the list to make the whole three generations of fourteen thing that Matt's doing work). The three groupings of fourteen generations marking out the genesis of Jesus are likely an exercise in Biblical numerology (as the number 14 was the number of the name "David") used to reinforce the idea that Jesus was not just a son of David, but rather the son of David. The inclusion of four women on this list two of whom were definitely Gentiles, the other two of whom were regarded by many so to be, indicates that in the person of Jesus, not only is Hebrew history personified, but the Gentiles the world over are included as well (as the number four frequently signified the created realm in the numerology of the day).

In the end of the first and throughout the second chapter, Matthew gives us a dramatic story with largely the same point as his genealogy- complete with ultra-Jewish historical ties and the inclusion of the gentiles (this time in the form of the wisemen). The first words spoken about Jesus in Matthew come from a messenger of God to Joseph in a dream. Here we are told that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that he will save the people from their sins. Leaving the questions of how either of those things is supposed to work aside, let's look at how these first two chapters address our desire to simply follow Jesus.

First, we need to understand that Jesus comes from a particular people, in a particular time and place. These people are very different from us on a number of levels (culture, language, use of numerology, etc...) so we need to try and understand first how they would have understood before we can attempt to apply that knowledge to our world. This will require some work. Second, if we believe that Matthew is setting up Jesus as the Hebrew people this means that in the life and ministry of Jesus, God will be singing that old song that played throughout the history of Israel in a new key. We need to be attentive to the tune so that we can pick up the notes when it starts to play again, whether in our stories of the life of Jesus or in our own lives. Finally, a note to the literally minded among us: Matthew's telling of the family history and infancy of Jesus is at odds with the telling of both in Luke. This is no big shock and has been known for at least 1800 years. For those I would recommend taking a deep breath, enjoy the clip below and try to take its advice to heart. This is going to be a long journey, so let's get it underway:

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