Sunday, June 1, 2014
A Journey With Matthew - Day 1
Today I am beginning a fifty-day journey with Matthew's Gospel using a resource from The Bible Challenge edited by Marek Zabriskie. If you wish to follow this blog for the next fifty days (with or without that resource) I will be glad for the company along the way. And I would love to hear from you at some point about what you are reading and learning and inwardly digesting. For my own part, I plan to offer brief reflections and questions along the way that I hope may enrich your journey.
Some suggestions from a fellow traveler. Begin by taking a few moments to get ready to read, in whatever way you pray. That may mean praying Morning Prayer, or maybe something like the short version of morning devotions found on page 137 of The Book of Common Prayer. Or it may just mean paying attention to your breathing and creating some space between the work of the day and this time of reflection. If you are in a place where you can read aloud without too much embarrassment I encourage you to do that - it feels weird but it engages a different part of our brains and it forces us to slow down and linger a bit over the words, allowing us to more literally "hear" the Word of God.
And finally, at least in this first read through, try to clear your mind of what you already "know" about the text. (For example, everyone knows the Christmas story as an amalgamation of Luke's shepherds and the census from Caesar Augustus and no room in the inn and the countless pageants we may have seen over the years. But none of that is in Matthew's account, which, as we will see comes at it from Joseph's perspective.) So try to read as if for the first time, noticing what the text does and does not say. Listen for the particular word of "good news" that Matthew offers in this text, on this day...
You can read Matthew 1:1-25 here.
As Ian Markham notes in his comments on this passage, most people skip over the genealogy. No lector wants to read this passage with all these names aloud in church but the "good" news here is that no one ever has to: these first sixteen verses never get read on a Sunday morning in traditions that use the lectionary. (Verses 18-25 are read on the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year A, but not the first seventeen verses.)
Yet it is worth noting that the first seventeen verses are the very first words of what Christians call the "New Testament." That should matter to us at least as much as the words "In the beginning..." do in the first book of the Torah. What is significant, I think, is that they provide a narrative bridge from the "Old Testament" into the New. They remind Christians that if you don't know who Abraham was - or David or Zerubbabel or Tamar or Rahab or Ruth or Bathsheba or Mary (a good Jewish girl!) - then you really don't know Jesus. One could spend the next fifty days, in fact, going back and just reading about all these people and asking why it is that Matthew, the most Jewish of the Gospel writers, begins here. If you don't know the story of Tamar (who is never taught in Sunday School so you may not) then click on her name and ask yourself, why is she here in the story of Jesus?
I think this genealogy is here for the same reason many of us get interested in our own family trees. It's not the names but the stories behind the names - the great-grandparent who set off for a new land, for example, in much the way that Jesus' ancestor, Abraham, did. Their stories invite us to see God at work in the world, in our lives - which are perhaps as messy as their lives were. And not to see God as some distant all-seeing Judge, but as God-with-us through it all. This will be a really important name for Jesus in Matthew's Gospel: Emmanuel.
If one doesn't know the story of David and Bathsheba then they are just a couple of names from Bible-land. But to read it and mark it and learn it and inwardly digest 2 Samuel 11 is to encounter a mix of political scandal and soap opera that makes it very clear that the Bible isn't about some fairy-tale world. For me, at least, this invites us to really enter into that claim that God was (and is) with us, through thick and thin; not just in all the good parts of our lives that we present publicly, but also in the skeletons we thought had been safely hidden n a closet.
So Dr. Markham's question is a very good one: Matthew 1 invites us to reflect on our own lives, on our family and our people; not the sanitized version of those stories, but to the very depths. For it is out of the depths that we cry to the Lord. In hard and difficult times, in embarrassing times, where is God? How does grace create a pattern for hope even there that insists that God cannot be confined to the heavens, but is with us even now as Emmanuel?
Click here for Day 2.
Posted by Rich Simpson at 5:00 AM