SCRIPTURE STUDY: Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus? Wake me when it’s over…
For Scripture study this semester at the house, we’re looking at the gospel of Matthew. We started last week with what has to be one of the most boring passages in all of scripture: the opening verses of Matthew, i.e. the genealogy of Jesus. But look a little closer and a few things stand out which might be clues for what Matthew has in store for us.
The genealogy is split up into 3 sets of 14 generations, going back to Abraham, then through David and ending with Jesus. The tracing Jesus’s line back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob seems pretty clear: Matthew is attaching Jesus to the founding fathers of the Hebrew people. The tracing the genealogy through David is also pretty clear: David is the “messiah” template in Judaism and by the end of the genealogy, Matthew has claimed that title for Jesus. Following David is a who’s who of Hebrew kings, good and bad, all the way to the biggest event in Israel’s history since the flight from Egypt—the Babylonian exile. The Babylonian exile marks a break in the Davidic line; the names of kings, familiar from scripture, gradually gives way to generations of anonymity, a downward progression of the Davidic line which results finally in Joseph, a carpenter.
And here is where it gets interesting. While Matthew begins his story by tracing Jesus’s lineage all the way back to David and Abraham, were left with what appears to be a disruption, a break in the line when we get to Jesus. Jesus is born of Mary, wife to Joseph, who is the adoptive father of Jesus according to the text, not his actual father. The birth of Jesus, which Mathew seems to be presenting to us as a continuation of the story which goes back to Abraham, is actually discontinuity. Matthew’s genealogy makes the case for both continuity and discontinuity in the birth of Jesus. We have an old story and a new story here, and how they play off of each other may be some of what Matthew has in mind for us in the rest of the gospel.
One other point to mention is the unusual asides mentioning women in the genealogy. Besides the fact that naming women in a genealogy of this kind is atypical, the particular women mentioned all have something in common—namely their status as outsiders. They are “non-Jews” who marry into the tribe and end up playing some decisive role within the story of God’s chosen people. Another inference from Matthew meant to draw our eyes to the interplay between insiders and outsiders? And the roles they play in God’s unfolding plan? We’ll continue reading on, each Monday, from 12-1pm. Feel free bring a lunch. All are welcome.