Tag Archives: Matthew 1

Adding it Up

Adding it Up (CaD Matt 1) Wayfarer

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
Matthew 1:17 (NIV)

I was good at math as a kid. I was always pretty good with numbers. I was mid-semester in the eighth grade when my teacher suggested that I switch to advanced math. She thought I was bored with class (probably) and really needed to be challenged (probably not). Despite my protestations of not wanting to switch classes, she kept at it until I agreed to make the switch.

As I recalled this memory in the quiet this morning, Pippin’s words to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring echoed within: “Short cuts make long delays.”

The shortcut I took to advanced math, created a long delay in my love of math. It was a waypoint in my education. By the time I switched to the advanced math class, I had already missed out on a number of foundational lessons. Without those foundational lessons, I was suddenly lost and confused. I may have been bored with the basic class, but now I was discouraged and felt stupid. Looking back, I realize that it was at this waypoint that I abandoned math as a subject I enjoyed. Through the rest of my education, I avoided math like the plague. I graduated from High School with only one year of math, and I graduated college with one remedial semester of the subject.

It’s ironic that my vocational career has been largely spent around numbers, data, and statistics. That which I was too discouraged to learn in the classroom I found I enjoyed learning on the job. I rediscovered my joy of numbers that withered in me all those years before. I grieve that it happened. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I’ve discovered that math is a core way God reveals and expresses Himself in Creation.

This came to mind in the quiet this morning as I begin a journey through Matthew’s biography of Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. He was a numbers guy, so it makes perfect sense that he, just like God, uses numbers to express his purpose and reveal his themes. This, however, is largely hidden from a cursory reading of the text of the first chapter, which is mostly a genealogy (which, let’s be honest, most people skip over).

A couple of things to point out:

Three times Matthew refers to “Jesus the Messiah.” Three is a number of God (e.g. Trinity, three days in the grave, and etc.). Matt’s purpose in writing this biography was largely to explain to his fellow Hebrews that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He makes this purpose blatantly clear in the first chapter in multiple layers. He says it not only with text but also with the number three.

The Hebrew people knew from the prophets that the Messiah would be a King from the line of David. Not only does the genealogy make this clear, but Matthew chooses to list fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the exile to Jesus. In the Hebrew alphabet, letters perform double duty as numbers. If you take the Hebrew letters that spell “David” and add them together, they total fourteen. Three times Matthew numerically communicates to his Hebrew readers that Jesus was the “son of David” they knew the Messiah would be.

Time and time again in the Great Story I find that God is not who humans expect Him to be. He even says that through the prophet Isaiah: “My ways are not your ways.” The Hebrews of Matthew’s day expected the Messiah to be like human kings who lord over others through power and conscription. With his opening words, Matthew lays the foundation for revealing the Messiah that doesn’t look like the Messiah his fellow Hebrews expected. Jesus, the Messiah Matthew is going to reveal, came to be Lord of those willing to follow through love, servant-heartedness, and suffering. From the very beginning, Matthew expresses clearly that Jesus is the Messiah. From His family tree to His story to the words of prophets, it all adds up.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Messy

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Matthew 1:18-19 (NIV)

I had a great aunt, my grandmother’s sister, whom I adored as a child. There is no doubt, however, that Aunt Nita was an uppity-priss and a prude. I wasn’t around her often, and she was always kind to me, so I was always quick to find her eccentricities charming and silly. For my grandmother and her sister, their eldest sister could be downright intolerable. Aunt Nita presented an air of sophisticated aristocracy which belied the humble, very messy truth of her family’s story. Interestingly, she nevertheless researched and shared those messy family stories in writing, for which I am forever grateful.

I have come to appreciate that life is commonly messy. Even for those like Aunt Nita who enjoy projecting the image of spit-shine propriety, the truth behind the facade is rarely that clean or polished.

Joseph was a good man. He was a hard working carpenter. He was faithful, upstanding and lived life by the book. Then his betrothed comes to him with a wild story about an angel and a positive pregnancy test. Joseph had not signed up for this kind of mess. There would be the public scandal of his girlfriend pregnant before the wedding. And what about that pregnancy? Joseph was a rule follower. He knew he’d not slept with Mary. And, while Mary was not the kind of girl to make up fantasies to cover her mistakes, this story was a little hard to swallow.

And then the angel visits Joseph. “You’re a good man, Joseph. You’re faithful, and you live life by the book. That’s why you’ve been chosen, and blessed, to walk with Mary through messy. That child in Mary’s womb? He’s here to address messy at its core.”

Along life’s journey I’ve noticed that many who claim to follow Jesus are a lot like my great Aunt Nita. We love to present a spit-shine image of perfection and propriety. I confess that I lived much of my own life that way. I was a lot like Joseph. Then I found out life is really messy and the polished, projected image melted in very public ways. Jesus gets that. In fact, that’s why Jesus came in the first place. Jesus’ very conception created its own messiness. If I’m not willing to be honest about my mess, I don’t ever come to fully know and appreciate the fullness of Jesus’ love and grace.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 1

Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, from the Book of Ke...
Image via Wikipedia

The family tree of Jesus Christ, David’s son, Abraham’s son: Matthew 1:1 (MSG)

I remember back to grade school and some of the contests of pride me and the boys would get into on the playground, in the lunch room, and during recess. Whose dad is bigger? Who is better at [fill in the blank]? Who was related to somebody famous?

It’s silly to look back on now, but some of those things are simply a part of human nature, and they carry down through generations. Walk onto any playground today and you’ll hear variations on the same pissing match.

Even in Jesus day, the people took a great amount of pride and interest in who was related to whom. In those days, much of your life was determined by the tribe in which you were born. In fact, the writers of the gospels knew quite well that the Old Testament prophets claimed that the Messiah would come out of the royal line of David. Unless Jesus could trace his lineage back to David, the people would not accept him as the Messiah. That’s why both Matthew and Luke begin their biographies with a family tree. Matthew traces the lineage through Jesus earthly father while Luke traces the lineage through his mother. Either direction, you find the key link to David.

And, while Jesus could have bragged to the other boys on the playground about being from the royal line, they would have taken one look at the list and given Jesus grief that the line also included prostitutes, deceivers, adulterers, murderers, and evil idolatrous kings.

Everyone can point back to honorable and dishonorable branches in the family tree. While the past can help us understand who we are and where we came from, the journey is all about the steps we choose to take in propelling us forward.

Enhanced by Zemanta