the be(yond)attitude

Matthew 5:1 begins the famous Beatitudes – arguably the most treasured lines from all human speech/writing.

It introduces a section where a vision of a renewed and mature humanity; a humanity that has not left ‘religion’ behind (5:17-19), but which has been renewed (died to self and risen to God and others, we might say) and has thus (and only thus) progressed and matured beyond a life that is preoccupied with ‘religion’ and doing what is ‘right’.  A humanity with a different kind of righteousness which fulfills the Law (5:17-20).

It showcases a bright and salty ‘hilltop humanity’ (5:13-16) marked out by certain attitudes, dispositions and actions (5:3-12).  A people who have moved beyond ‘murder is wrong’ to ‘don’t be controlled by rage’ (5:21ff); beyond ‘adultery is wrong’ to ‘don’t be controlled by lust’ (5:27ff); beyond the lawfulness of divorce to committed faithfulness (5:31ff); beyond oaths to commitment to one’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (5:33ff); beyond a ‘just retaliation’ to graceful and sacrificial giving (5:38ff); beyond the imperfection of hatred of enemies to the perfection of love for all (5:43ff).  This new humanity is a humanity whose giving (6:1ff), praying (6:5ff) and fasting (6:16ff) is not ‘religious’ but humble and loving; and who are not mastered by earthly treasure but who seek and trust the kingdom of God.

homecoming for bad girls & outsiders

The genealogy of Matthew 1:1-17 is about far more than biological decent.

It is well known that the extra detail given for Judah, Salmon, Boaz and David is deliberate.  Jesus’ family history has some real gems in it: prostitutes, adulterers and gentiles.

The only other extra in the genealogy is the bit about “Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon”.  This detail about the exile is reinforced by the summary of the genealogy in 1:17.  Three sets of 14 generations divide the four key events our attention is being drawn to: birth of nation (Abraham), peak of national life (David), valley of national life (exile), and what it all led up to (the Christ).

  • Abraham >> (14 generations) >> David…
  • David >> (14 generations) >> Exile…
  • Exile >> (14 generations) >> ‘the Christ’.

The author wants us to understand not only that Jesus is the ‘son of David’ and the true ‘son of Abraham’ (as set out in the first verse), but also that the exile in some sense has continued until the coming of the Christ.  The Jewish people had, of course, been back home from exile for quite some time… but we are being told there is another homecoming from another exile, and people like prostitutes, adulterers and gentiles are part of the King’s family coming home.

small verse – big theology

Matthew 1:1 – “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:”

A short verse.  The 16 words above (TNIV) translate only 8 Greek terms. ((Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυὶδ υἱοῦ Ἀβρααμ.))  It not only summarises the following genealogy (1:1-17), but hints at key themes of the whole gospel.

We are being prepared for much more than merely the family history of Jesus.  From verse one, the original hearers/readers of this gospel understood that this story was about Jesus, who is the ‘son of David’, the anointed long-awaited Davidic king, and a ‘son of Abraham’ par excellence, fulfilling (and thus redefining) what it meant to be a member of the people of God. ((cf. 3:9 – “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”))  This is a prelude to a genealogy which hints that genealogical ties to Abraham have become irrelevant. ((Of course, I hasten to add, not ‘irrelevant’ in the sense that nothing before Jesus at all matters.  The sharp discontinuity of the new does not do away with all continuity with the old.))

Correct me if I’m wrong, but that looks like Christology, Ecclesiology and Soteriology (and probably more than a dash of narrative theology) in one very small verse.