What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 2
There’s a fascinating process that goes on in the political world if you pay close attention. It’s particularly noticeable when you watch the races for the office of President of the United States.
In those presidential races, you will see candidates make appearances in local communities/states and begin their stump speeches by talking about their ties to that particular city or state.
When I lived in Colorado during the 2004 presidential election, for instance, there was a great deal made about how Sen. John Kerry had been born in the Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Aurora, CO (just up the street from where I lived at the time).
I doubt that Kerry made a big point of stressing that fact out when he campaigned in places like Louisiana or Kentucky. Yet whenever he (or his vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards) appeared in Colorado, they made sure to mention that fact.
So why do candidates do that? Why do they adjust their stories to emphasize certain elements of their story in one place and different elements in another? Are they just pandering to their audiences – trying cynically to grab votes?
Some might say that is their primary purpose. And I’m sure for some, that’s the case. But for others, that’s not the case at all. The reason they stress different pieces of their story is they are trying to build a relationship with the audience with whom they are speaking. I know from my first-hand experience that when Kerry reminded the electorate in Colorado that he had been born there, it made it seem as if that fact helped make him more sensitive to the needs and concerns of Coloradans.
There is a similar dynamic going on in today’s tell of Jesus’ story in the Gospel of Matthew. In last Saturday’s passage and today’s passage (Matthew 1 & 2), there are no less than five references to how the events of Jesus’ life unfolded in ways that fulfilled the prophecies in the Old/Hebrew Testament.
Some of these events that are talked about in Matthew (i.e. Joseph and Mary’s exodus to Egypt with the baby Jesus) are mentioned in none of the other Gospels. Some of the accounts (i.e. Joseph, Mary & Jesus staying in Egypt until Herod’s death) even seem to contradict the timeline contained in other Gospels (i.e. Luke mentions that Joseph, Mary & Jesus returned directly to Nazareth from Bethlehem).
Many folks have spent a lot of time and energy exploring these contradictions and what they might mean. Scholars who are more conservative in their approach spend much time trying to explain away these “apparent contradictions” while scholars who are more progressive use the contradictions to present the stories as time/culture-bound expressions of one human’s story.
What often gets left out in this debate is the principle that I started my blog entry by talking out: that each of the Gospel writer(s) tried to put the Jesus story within the specific context of its audience.
The author(s) of Matthew, for instance, was speaking to a primarily Jewish audience - so the author(s) wanted to place the telling of the story within a Jewish context. The author(s) of Luke, on the other hand, was speaking to a largely Gentile/Greek audience so the author(s) put the story in a different context. That’s a very understandable reality for me.
I suppose that’s why I tend to focus on the significance of the story (i.e. the overall message the author(s) was trying to communicate) rather than the context in which the story was told (i.e. the specific details the author(s) used to communicate the story).
Chances are when you relate to the Jesus story you do something much like those earlier Gospel-tellers did as well: you put Jesus’ story into the context of your own life – your own set of values and level of education – and communicate it within this rubric.
As you do that, my request of you today would be that you be gentle with others in your telling of your Jesus story – having the humility to acknowledge that there are other contexts/lives from which Jesus’ story could be told as well.
Til next time…