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, July 26, 2017

Matthew 1

After we get past all of the verses of genealogy,  the first chapter of Matthew turns out to be fascinating and eye-opening.  It comes from a world very different from the 21st century, a world where the divine intersected with the "real" world in palpable ways that included dreams and virgin births.

The chapter is about mystery, miracles, purity (virginity), and the unexpected.  It launches us into an alternative reality.  It revolves around an event otherwise unimaginable, a pregnant women who never had sex.  It hinges on a message from out of time, space, and our daily lives—it hinges on a dream.  When we walk into Matthew's world, we walk out of our own.

Or, do we?  The very last verses, Matthew 1:25, contains the surprise of all surprises.  It has been made clear that Jesus' conception was a miraculous one, engineered as it were by the Holy Spirit.  Unique among all of the billions of human beings that have ever lived.  But in verse 25 there is no indication of some kind of painless birth.  His conception was miraculous.  His birth was not.  Sweat, tears, pain, blood, midwives, relatives, anxious father, umbilical cord—the whole nine yards of a typical birth.  The dangers of such a birth.  And the joys.  The first time he was suckled.  Tenderness.  Pride.  A first born son!

Matthew 1:25 leaves us in a strange, half-unimaginable, half-familiar place.  Jesus was apparently conceived in one not of this world place, born in another of this world place.  Whether or not the story is "literally true" is far, far beside the point.  For us, the far more important question is rather whether it's claim in true.  Was Jesus a child of Beyond as much he was of Here?