Week 1 (Jan. 8-14): Matt. 1 – 16

Reading plan for Days 1 to 7:

Sunday, 1/08: Matthew 1-2
Monday, 1/09: Matt. 3-4
Tuesday, 1/10: Matt. 5-7
Wednesday, 1/11: Matt. 8-9
Thursday, 1/12: Matt. 10-11
Friday, 1/13: Matt. 12-13
Saturday, 1/14: Matt. 14-16

Some introductory comments:

What is a “Gospel” anyway?

The word “gospel” is most often translated into English as “good news” (as it is in the Common English Bible). As a unique form of literature distinct from typical biographies or histories, the gospels of Jesus Christ combine biographical, historical, theological, philosophical, and other material to tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Gospels are written with the specific intent of persuading the one listening (remember these gospels were originally only heard, not read) that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, and that his coming and the coming of the kingdom were both “good news” for all people.

Although the term “propaganda” has some negative connotations to it, we should keep in mind that each Gospel writer was, in essence, sharing about Jesus of Nazareth and the disciples with the intent of promoting Jesus’ cause. Three of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are very similar in structure and content (they are called the “synoptic gospels,” I’ll share about this in a later week), one (John) is different in a variety of ways, but all four gospels are written to specific audiences and intended to help them to understand and accept Jesus as the Christ.

Introducing the “Gospel According To Matthew”

Although the Common English Bible many of us are reading from only identifies the book as “Matthew,” for generations and in many translations this first book of the New Testament has been known as “The Gospel According to Matthew.” There is what I would identify as an important reminder in this longer title: this is the good news about Jesus Christ, but as told by the chronicler known to us as “Matthew.”

(Note that there is disagreement as to whether the gospel was actually written by the disciple we know of as Levi/Matthew, or was written by a later Christian who identified it with Matthew to give it credibility. We won’t venture into such a deep discussion/debate here, but I do want to acknowledge, even as I refer to the author as the same disciple named Matthew that others might disagree with that attribution.)

Matthew’s particular interest in this Gospel seems to be in persuading a Jewish audience about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah promised in Hebrew (aka “Old Testament”) Scripture. Indeed, so interested is Matthew in making this a credible argument that he emphasizes two particular forms of content that would appeal to a Jewish audience:

  1. First, beginning in Chapter 1, he shares a full genealogy that connects Jesus back to (“Father”) Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish nation;
  2. Second, throughout the gospel Matthew references a variety of Hebrew scriptures (be they from the Torah, the prophets, or the Psalms) to help bolster his “argument” that because his teaching and life fulfilled said scripture, Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.

As you read through Matthew, keep in mind that he was writing for a Jewish audience, but that much of what we know about Jesus comes from this eloquent gospel. Indeed, one of the great treasures of the Christian faith – Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” which has influenced both Christians and people of other faiths (eg. Gandhi) – is found only in the Gospel According to Matthew!

Blessed reading to you this week! Be sure to post questions, comments, or insights in the comments section below.

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10 responses to “Week 1 (Jan. 8-14): Matt. 1 – 16

  1. Why start with a list of names? As I was listening to Matthew this morning, the introduction wisely pointed out that Matthew’s introduction is to show the importance of God’s presence. A list of names of Biblical figures, people whose stories would be familiar to his mostly Jewish audience, roots Jesus both in their history _and_ their present. The genealogy reminds them, and us, that in Jesus, God becomes present in our real world of strife and trouble; God is with us. God is present to save and heal. God cares, knows, and participates in this life with us… All that, from a list of names! (There’s more, too, but that’s my thought this morning!)

  2. I dig the genealogy too – there’s something strengthening about remembering that, in the church, we are part of long history of people that God has been working with and being faithful to – it’s not up to us to be the “ones” who get it right and save the world – just to be people who bear the faith to the next generation. It seems like God has a long-term process in mind for saving the world, and is, likely, much more patient (and also much more hopeful) about it than we are.

    For a bit of fun, here’s Andrew Peterson’s song with the genealogy: https://youtu.be/vKo1wv2LXkQ

    This reading, I’m struck by the contrast the Matthew has between Joseph and Herod. When it becomes clear that Mary is pregnant, Joseph risks his own reputation by dismissing her quietly, instead of making a big show of it to make a case that he wasn’t involved. As a result, I wonder if he would have had to endure suspicion among his community the rest of his life as to whether or not he was the father. After getting brought into the plan, Joseph accepts his place as the husband to Mary and Father to Jesus, which also might have made it seem like he was, at best, a fool for taking an unfaithful spouse, or worse, may have confirmed suspicion that he had committed adultery and fathers the child. Joseph, like Mary, is willing to sacrifice privilege and reputation to be part of the Plan. Herod, on the other hand, refuses to be part of the Plan – he is so unwilling to give up any of his status/privilege as king that he will give the order to murder children. Joseph seems willing to give up what little he had. Herod has a whole kingdom and won’t give over a bit.

    All that to say, I hope I become more like Joseph than like Herod.

    • Thanks, Kevin! These are great thoughts. I, too, aspire to being more like Joseph than Herod. In fact, when I attended The Academy for Spiritual Formation, the very first session we were to choose an icon for our tenure. I chose an icon of Joseph. At the time, Will has just 3 and Kate was on her way, and St. Joseph seemed a very appropriate role model.

  3. Is anyone else always surprised when they read the Sermon on the Mount? It seems like every time I read it, I am struck by how Jesus kind of breaks apart the version of him I normally carry around in my head.

    This time, in particular, I found myself reading those beatitudes and just thinking “I don’t think Jesus lives in the real world – this just isn’t how things work – the meek, the poor, and the mourning – I don’t see the blessing for them happening.” I mean, the way that Jesus prescribes His followers to live just doesn’t make sense – it seems like a good way to get into trouble (I’m being a little facetious, but seriously: giving to everyone who begs or asks to borrow? That’s just asking for it).

    As I continued to read, I was surprised again to see how deeply Jesus believes in the goodness and love of God – and I think that just maybe Jesus can live more radically than I do, and that he sees the blessedness that I don’t, because He has knows, and has faith in, the love of God much more than I do. I mean, I read his words about prayer expecting to receive, and not worrying, and I realize that Jesus has a lot more trust in God than I do. Am I the only one?

    • ” ‘I don’t think Jesus lives in the real world ‘ ” Isn’t that part of the intent of the sermon, though? This is the world we could live in. A world where blessedness is so immanent that even those things we generally think of with scorn or concern suddenly demonstrate wonder, awe, blessedness. I mean, it’s easy to think someone who is rich or celebrating new life is blessed; it’s harder to think someone who is poor or mourning is blessed; but what if somehow we suddenly realized the presence of God with/among us. We’d know that blessing in all things…
      just a thought

      • You’re right. I think that’s part of my “surprise” – it seems that Jesus sees the world as it really is, and sees God as God really is. But here I am 33 years into the Christian thing, and every time I read it, I’m reminded that I see the world very differently, and still have a ways to go. Luckily for me, the mystery that I can spend a lifetime exploring is about how good God is, not about how terrible He is. The God that Jesus worships (and that He is, if you ask me 🙂 is a pretty amazing one.

  4. Day 3 – The Sermon on the Mount. Referred to by some as the ethical and/or behavioral core of Christianity. Like Moses going up the mountain, receiving the 10 Commandments, and sharing them with God’s people, Jesus takes it a step further, going up the mountain, sharing more deeply about the nature of who we are created to be, who we can be in God and Christ.

    I’ve already shared this week about new insight from “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (https://wordheart.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/peacemakers-and-core-values), and have written repeatedly herein about “blessed are the pure in heart,” beginning here (https://wordheart.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/purity-of-heart-1-intent).

    This week, I was struck once again by one of Eugene Peterson’s choices in adapting Scripture into modern English. He shares Matthew 6:22 as follows: “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.” (Reminiscent of one of my “guiding” verses, Philippians 4:8, “think on these things…”)

    What are your eyes focusing on this week? Are you looking with “wonder and belief”?

  5. I really dig this verse – 9:36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

    I’m grateful that God understands what it’s like to be human.

  6. Don’t laugh Pastor Ron this is Eula: I was moved by two things in the readings: 1) The verse in Mathew 8:10-12 When Jesus heard it, He marveled and said to those who followed…..”Assuredly, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel……………………………….GO your way and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” In between He speaks of the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.

    What is intriguing all before He spoke of compassion, now I see this casting out into outer darkness. So indeed He could be a God of stern judgement. Maybe, I focus too much on my God who will never deceive me and could do all things good for us. Hello, I am having a rude awakening given the above 2 verses.. On the other hand, although this seem very draconian I am thanking Him daily for another day on repentance ground.

    2) I did a very. very, tiny research and found out that of the 4 gospels,the Magi was only mention in the Book of Mathew

    • Yay, Eula! So glad you figured out this “blog” thing! 🙂

      Related to your comment, I was struck later by the Message’s version of Matthew 12:31-32, where it talks about insulting/blaspheming Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit. Peterson wrote it this way:

      “There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you deliberately persist in your slanders against God’s Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives. If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you’re sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.”

      Perhaps what Jesus is describing is not “punishment” for, but simply the consequence of, one’s actions. That seems more in keeping with my understanding of Jesus, God, and God’s love, again demonstrated in John 3:16-18; God/Jesus come to love and save, to help and heal; but if we reject that, we face the consequence of losing that saving hand…

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