Brad Reads the Gospels #1: Matthew 1:1-16

Let us begin, o my brothers, at the beginning, as it is traditionally reckoned.  Of the Four Evangelists, Saint Matthew is the one most interested in addressing himself to Jewish readers (and ken well, here and anon, that the men who wrote the Bible had contemporary audiences, and were not addressing themselves solely to us in the here and now.  Forgetting that point leads to heresy and Left Behind novels), and this bent is reflected right from the get-go. He presents his readers with the lineage of Jesus the Christ from Father Abraham on down through the tribe of Judah and into the line of the great poet-warrior-king David, the founder of the dynasty that laid claim to the title King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah (this title was claimed by the Kings of Ethiopia, by right of descent from King Solomon Ben David the Wise and the Queen of Sheba with whom he lay, and this in turn helped give rise to the Rastafari faith, but that’s another story entirely).  This noble lineage is a key part of establishing Jesus’ claim as the prophesied Messiah.

Of course, the Gospels tell us the story of a Messiah who fulfilled prophecy by subverting it.  Prophecy, and the Law itself.  And this is foreshadowed here, amidst the dull list of names.

“and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.”

And thus the story of Jesus is tied not only to the story of David the King, but the two are both tied to the story of Ruth.

And the story of Ruth is revolutionary.

Ruth was from Moab.  And the people of Israel were forbidden to intermingle with the Moabites.  But, the story goes, a certain man took his family to Moab when famine struck, and despite the rules, his sons married Moabite women.

From a classic ironic judgement standpoint, their subsequent deaths might thus seem like a fitting end to the story, rather than the beginning.

Ruth chooses to accompany her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem, that humble village which would be the Cradle of Kings, and to embrace her mother’s people and her mother’s God as her own.

The Torah makes many provisions for the correct treatment of foreigners, often accompanied with the reminder “because you were slaves in Egypt.”  Even so, a Moabitess among Israelites was an outsider, a second-class citizen.  And as a widow, she had to make a living gleaning in the fields of others, essentially begging for scraps.

Her redemption comes at the hands of a man named Boaz, and that tale is one of the four great love stories in the Tanakh.  And from her loins comes the father of Jesse, who raised David Giant-Slayer, David of the Harp, David of the Sling and Five Stones, City-taker and Nation-builder.  And from him and the tragic love between him and Bathsheba came Solomon the Wise, Temple-builder.  And on down the line, through the generations, it comes down to Jesus, son of Joseph, Nazarene Carpenter.

The lineage of the Annointed One of the Sons of Israel is shot through with the threads of alien blood.  The Royal Geneology encompasses the stranger and the outcast.

In establishing Jesus’ credentials as the Messiah, Matthew also hints at the true breadth of domain.


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