Monday, October 15, 2007

An Update on the Study of Matthew

We've been off to rather a slow start on our study of Matthew: introductory material, Art's talk on the structure of the Gospel, and a slog through the begats have prevented us from racing. But that's OK. we intend to take our time. I'm personally gratified that a signficant number of people are sitting together and talking together (and not just sitting to take things in) to hear and absorb Matthew's good news. I have a tendency to pontificate (no surprise there), but I am both aided and limited in that tendency by the willingness of other people to kick in ideas based on their own insights and questions. It's going well.

Here is an outline of my opening summary for next Sunday of what we have been discussing, as we prepare to discuss the "slaughter of the innocents" and events that follow in the Gospel.

We have seen or I have tried to convince the group of a couple of things about this Gospel: For one thing, Matthew has carefully structured his Gospel not only to state his message but also to act out or demonstrate and imply that message.

Matthew sees the importance of Jesus in both so-called religious terms (Jesus is Son of Abraham) and so-called political terms (Jesus is son of David).

On the religious side, I have suggested that as Son of Abraham, Jesus is (to use Matthew’s term) the “fulfillment” of God’s purposes in electing Abraham’s heirs as his holy people. God’s promise to Abraham was that by Abraham’s heirs “all the nations of the world will bless themselves” – which I take to be a way of saying that the Jews would be both a signal of and the yeast for the re-making of the world, reconciling the world, according to God’s intention (as we began to explore that in Genesis last year).

And so Matthew spends a lot of time drawing parallels between the life of Jesus and the history of the people of Israel. First, in the begats, Matthew traces Jesus’ family tree back to Abraham, to demonstrate (in a way not always to the satisfaction of your modern, legal eyes) that Jesus is both the physical and the spiritual son of Abraham. Last week we saw him bring Jesus into Egypt, where he sojourned for his own protection for a time, so that he could later return to Galilee and pursue his mission. At least in part, Matthew’s concern to demonstrate the “fulfillment” of Jesus’ Jewishness is to reassure his own community (this is not just my theory, but it is my operating theory) that they were not disloyal to the One True God by following Jesus, even though many of them were Jews and even though they numbered among themselves Gentiles, too.

On the political side, Jesus is the son of David, the great unifying king of Israel who functions in Jewish theology as both a realization of God’s will for the earth and a kind ofeschatological model for the final kingship of the Lord. Jewish thought about the Messiah, the anointed One, the Christ involved hopes for the restoration of the rule of God in a political state, with Jerusalem at the center of the running of the world, to the banishment of or reconciliation under God’s rule with all Israel’s (which is to say, Israel’s God’s) enemies.

The list of ancestors is a list of earthly kings – a strong suggestion that the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah is very much “of this earth.” And no less a figure than Herod the Great recognized this: When the magi came searching for the “king of Jews” (using Herod’s own title to refer to the infant Jesus, to whom the star was guiding them), “Herod was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” And thus, because of Herod’s distaste for challengers to his throne, the holy Family was driven into Egypt for a time.

As we shall see as we look at the sojourn in Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents, the overtones of the Exodus experience of God’s people ties together the religious and political – and that is paralleled ("fulfilled" and recapitulated) in the life of Jesus.

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