For study materials for next week’s readings from Matthew (5-7) see below.
The Gospel According to Matthew I (Chapters 1-4)
5th Sunday after Pentecost
July 1, 2012
Matthew 1: 1-18; 4:12-25
Read Matt 1: 1-18
Even at camp, people ask for your credentials: what’s your name, where do you come from, what grade are you in, and what school do you go to? The pastors and confirmation leaders have their own need to identify each other: pastor or lay leader, what church, what town, what seminary, do you know…..?
Matthew is getting Jesus’ credentials clear: “an account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” We usually think of genealogies as a crashing bore, and I, for one, never really read them. Matthew begins with Abraham, the father of the covenant with God which established the people of Israel as God’s chosen people.
God promised that all nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham, so he is the father not only of the Hebrew nation, but of all who come to God through faith, sinners and saints, Jews and Gentiles. The other big name in this genealogy is David. The royal line of Israel runs through David. Matthew will return time and again to the Abraham and David connections as he presents Jesus as both the realization of the kingly line and also the fulfillment of the promise of God’s blessing to all people who love God and are faithful to God’s vision of hope for all.
Notice also that Matthew does not just mention the line of parents. He mentions that Judah and his brothers are the sons of Jacob. He mentions the sons of Jechoniah, and that Judah is the father of twins Perez and Zerah by Tamar; a woman in the lineage. You can look up the story of Tamar and Judah in Genesis 38, but trust me, it’s a not your average “begat” Bible story. Notice also who is the mother of Boaz: Rahab, who was the prostitute who hid the Hebrew spies before the fall of Jericho. And Boaz is the father of Obed by Ruth, the Moabitess, who came back to Bethlehem with Naomi after their husbands had died. King David’s line also comes through Bathsheba, the wife of a foreigner, a woman who the King co-opted from her husband and then sent him off to die in battle. The fifth woman in this lineage is Mary, who will be found with child before she moves into Joseph’s house.
Even in the neatness of Matthew’s arrangement of 14 and 14 and 14, we find hints that there is something more moving in this tale. Matthew could be including the brothers of Judah, and the brothers of Jechoniah to underline the importance of the new family which will be created as Jesus calls disciples and commissions his followers to do his work in the world. Matthew can also be including these women who are foreigners or married to foreigners to bring attention to the wideness of God’s call beyond the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The importance of all of these unusual people in Jesus’ credentials could also be that Matthew wants us to see from the start that God has intervened in the story from the very beginning. God will do it again, and history is wide open to God’s fresh initiatives.
Nowhere in this lineage is God named, but it is clear that God has been at work throughout this history. Fathers bore their sons in hope throughout the generations, but none of them has been able to bring in the promised kingdom. Until now. It is in the person of Jesus, the son of Abraham, the son of David, Emmanuel, the Christ, the Messiah, as Matthew names him. It will be this lowly person, humble and persecuted from the beginning of his story, who will be the promised one, though he will not be easy to recognize as the Royal one, the Savior, the presence of the divine. This is the person who will bring together all people under the love of God shown in his own humility by becoming human, and by his cruel death at the hands of threatened authority. We will see that Jesus chooses to go the route of suffering, in order to show the depth of God’s love and God’s own willingness to give up everything to bring us forgiveness and mercy. We will see finally that love and mercy in this story as it develops in the words of Matthew the Evangelist, who names Jesus Emmanuel, “God with us.”
Read Matt 4: 12-25
As John is arrested, Jesus steps into his own public ministry. He moves from the remote Nazareth into the Galilee. The road from Egypt to Syria passes through this area by the lake. Jesus is moving into the glare of the public sphere. Jesus takes the theme of John’s own declaration: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Jesus is on the move, calling four fisherman to follow him, and making fishing the top of his agenda. Rabbis customarily set out their shingle and students would come to them asking to be taught. Jesus goes after his disciples. He takes them along on the beginning of a journey that captures all of his ministry, teaching, preaching, and healing. The word spreads powerfully, says the Gospel writer, so that people come from all over the north, the Decapolis, the south, Judea and Jerusalem, and the east, across the Jordan, to hear him and to be cured by him. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and the shadow of death, light has dawned.” So said the prophet, and so the Evangelist shows us at the end of Jesus’ credentials, his movements through the geography of the Middle East, and his bursting on the scene in his ministry. Matthew shows us Jesus as God’s own entry into the world, and God’s reaching into human history to change it forever. We are now ready to hear what Jesus’ has to say as Matthew lays out Jesus’ first teaching and preaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Now may the peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
The Gospel According to Matthew II
“Poetry and symmetry are not the least marks of Matthew’s nine Beatitudes, organized into two stanzas of four each, with the ninth in a somewhat different form sounding a powerful crescendo…Matthew opened and closed the entire series of eight with the same solemn promise: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is the theme of Jesus’ proclamation and the Beatitudes begin to flesh out what Jesus means by God’s rule.
“Jesus Beatitudes are bolts of lightning splitting the skies. They crack open the heavens, astonish eye and ear, and carry with them the smell of burning ozone. They are ecstatic, inspired declarations trumpeted from the mouth of the revealer, and they are brimming with infinite grace.
“Who will benefit from the inbreaking kingdom proclaimed by Jesus? In Jesus’ day, the Essenes of Qumran taught that the pure will benefit; they prayed for a kingdom of the perfectly clean. Pharisees said the law-observant will benefit; they looked for a kingdom of energetically good people. Zealots promoted the way of religious patriotism; they expected God to support their efforts to establish a kingdom of free people….
“Matthew himself heard the voice of Jesus invoking heaven’s blessing, not upon the spiritual virtuosos, but upon those who were inspired to seek God’s rule of righteousness. The one indispensable fruit of the Spirit desired by Jesus is righteousness…which may be defined for now as hearts set on the will of God, on love toward God and toward the neighbor, and even toward the enemy. But the reality of righteousness surpasses easy definition. Matthew spends 28 chapters describing its contours and singing its praise.”
Robert H Smith “Matthew” (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament, Augsburg, Minneapolis1989). Pages 78-81.
In reading chapters 5-7 of Matthew pay attention to this:
The mountain: Are you still listening for echoes of Moses and the Exodus? Ancient teachers sat down to teach. As you continue to read the Gospels, listen for Jesus’ posture.
The Beatitudes: Is there a way that you see these verses as comfort, as hope for yourself? Could you rewrite them from your own experience?
The Law and the Prophets: Could verse 5:17 be a manifesto of Jesus’ work? Heard it before? Keep your ears open as you continue to read. Jesus sets himself as the true teacher over other interpreters of Torah.
You have heard…but I say: Is Jesus more generous in his interpretation of the Law or more strict? Where is grace in his teaching?
Your Father in Heaven: This phrase runs through this teaching as a constant point of reference. This is the measure of what Christian life should look like. “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” How does this fit with the Beatitudes we’ve just heard?
Pray this way: When you read this prayer in its context what strikes you about it most?
As an exercise, you might want to write this prayer imagining it said to God in the person of someone other than “Father” that you loved(ed) and trust(ed).
Do Not Worry: This is another favorite from Matthew. Does this only address clothes and food and housing? What is the confidence that this lifts up? How do you hear this speak to you about your own life? About the pressures of living in a consumer culture?