We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jesus the Messiah

The first verse of the first book of the New Testament, Matthew 1:1, reads, "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham." (NRSV)  We should not pass over the meaning of this passage as it takes it at once into the core of New Testament faith.  For the earliest generations of the faithful,  Jesus was the Jewish messiah, and this is the first spiritual "fact" asserted in the first verse of the New Testament.  Whatever else Jesus of Nazareth might have been, those who followed him were convinced that he was the one the Jewish people had long waited for—the one to lead them to safety.  The verse, furthermore, drives home the "fact" of Jesus' messiahship by noting that he was the "son of David, the son of Abraham."  He was, that is, heir to the royal power of King David and the powerful faith of Father Abraham, which meant that his messianic pedigree was legitimate and impressive.

In light of the Trinitarian faith that later developed, there are a couple of things worth noting here.  First, in these stage-setting, theme-setting first words in the New Testament there is no hint of the divine Son of God who is the Second Person of the Trinity.  If his generation had believed in these doctrines when Matthew was written, it seems likely that the author would have included something to indicate the divinity of Jesus, even something as simple as, "the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of God."  At the heart of the New Testament message is Jesus the Messiah.  It took the church centuries to read his divinity back into the record.

Second and in light of the doctrine of the Trinity, this simple verse points decisively to the incarnational nature of the Christian faith.  The story of the divine Jesus begins with a genealogy tying him to a long list of what the people of Matthew's time took to be historical figures.  He was Jesus of Nazareth, son of David and of Abraham.  Historically down to the present, large segments of the church have virtually denied the Incarnation by their emphasis on the Perfect Son of God who shared and shares God's omnipotence and omniscience.  They have also denied the historical reality of Jesus the Messiah by turning him into "Sweet Jesus," the one who offends no one, never has an unkind word or thought.  The Jesus of Matthew 1:1 has long been buried under the weight of our philosophies and ideologies to the point that it has become impossible to see how God was actually in an actual person in the real world of the first century.