Saturday, 4 October 2014
These days it is near-unanimous amongst Bible scholars that Mark was actually the first Gospel (and that many of Paul's letters were written before the Gospels anyway). But Matthew is still considered the right choice to begin the New Testament.
The reason is that Matthew is the great connecting Gospel. Written for the community of Jewish Christians in Judea, Samaria & Galilee, it strongly emphasises Jesus as the Jewish Messiah - as the fulfilment of the hopes and promises of the Jewish scriptures. Matthew emphasises links between the things Jesus said and did and the writings of the prophets; he proclaims Jesus as the fulfilment of the Torah, the Jewish Law; and he starts his Gospel with a genealogy going back to Abraham.
Genealogies are important, especially in small-town life, because they connect you into the life of the community. A genealogy is not about genes or physical inheritance, it's about where you fit in. Whose child are you, what is your background, which family do you come from, which known figures are related to you.
I live in a town, Reading in England, with quite a transient population, so in many ways this sort of connectedness has broken down. Yet, even here, I often find myself classified as "you must be BlackSar's dad", or "BlackLin's husband", or sometimes "are you related to BlackJohn, the photographer?" (no, I'm not). The desire to connect and to build community through personal links and relationships remains, even if the impermanence of much of that community makes it difficult to sustain.
The genealogy given by Matthew starts from Abraham, the father of Israel, and is important for who it includes: King David of course, considered the founder of the line of true Godly kings, but there's also a prostitute (probably: Rahab), and a foreigner (Ruth), and Solomon (whose mother was stolen by David from Uriah, by adultery and murder), then a line of kings of Judea, and eventually Joseph, "the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah".
It's not important that the genealogy probably misses people out - it is who is included which provides the community connections - and it is certainly not important that Joseph was not Jesus' biological father. He was the husband of Jesus' mother and that is what matters to the community.
Jesus was an Israelite and a Jew (of the tribe of Judah) and a descendant of the line of David and fitted into his local community as the son of Joseph and Mary. He connected on many levels. For Matthew that is the foundation of his telling of the good news about Jesus the Messiah: saviour, teacher and the great high priest whose sacrifice finally opens the way for God to reconnect with his people.
I was at a teaching day/quiet day yesterday, led by David Winter. He views the Bible as being all about connection: God working to reconnect with people, eventually fulfilled through Jesus, and mankind seeking (more or less enthusiastically) to connect with God.
There is a great human longing for connection: with God, with one another, with our surroundings, even with our own inner self. Matthew's testimony is that Jesus is the key to that connection: he is the one who makes us whole, in ourselves and as part of God's people, God's community.
It is said that "no man is an island". Jesus brings that truth to life: may he do so for you whenever you feel the need for connection that goes deeper, to the heart and to the soul.