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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jesus the Post-Exilic Messiah

The Gospel of Matthew opens, famously, with a genealogy (1:2-17), which is divided into three sets of generations with 14 generations to a set.  The first set of generations runs from Abraham to David, the second from David to the Babylonian Exile, and the last set from the Exile to Jesus.  In the whole genealogy only one historical event named (other than births) is the Exile.  Jesus was, that is, a post-exilic Jew living in post-exilic times.  While biblical scholars may generally understand the power and importance that the Exile had in the history of the Jewish people right down to the New Testament, that understanding has not for the most part reached the churches.  Out here in the real world of the church, we tend to divorce Jesus and earliest church history from its Jewish post-exilic historical context.  We shouldn't.  Again, as we saw in yesterday's post on Matthew 1:1, "Jesus the Messiah," the first verses of the first book in the New Testament highlight the fact that Jesus was situated in a real time and place.  Our faith is that he is God With Us in a unique way, that is that God was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.  Matthew 1 drives home both the centrality and historicity of the Incarnation for us.

The text thus invites the historical investigation of the events recorded in the New Testament including most especially the life of Jesus himself.  That is to say that Matthew 1 and what follows in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament inspires both a theological and an academic response.  Theologically, it drives us in the direction of the Incarnation.  Academically, it invites us to engage in historiography.  In their own way, each of these intellectual responses to Matthew 1 and beyond are faithful to the text itself.  They each reflect the realities of the earliest church's faith in Jesus, namely that he was the "son of Abraham, the son of David" (Matthew 1:1) who was born fourteen generations after the Babylonian Captivity.  For Christian theologians, then, he was God's Son.  For the historians, he was a post-exilic rabbi and prophet.  From our pulpits and in our prayers, we need to pay attention to both of these faithful perspectives on Jesus of Nazareth.  Amen.