Where Jesus Came From – Notes From Matthew 1

A few months ago I taught a few Sunday School lessons from Matthew’s gospel.  I intended to publish some of my observations from preparing these lessons, but I have been busy procrastinating.  Anyhow, here are some notes from Chapter 1, which contains the genealogy of Jesus.

The gospel writers each have a personality, and Matthew’s is perhaps the most interesting of all.  In my college New Testament class, ages ago, they taught me that Matthew was the most “Hebrew” of the gospels.  Matthew quotes the Old Testament regularly, with the familiarity of one who has learned it from his youth.  And yet, Matthew was a tax collector before being called to be a disciple.  (Mt. 9:9.) Where does he come by this intimate knowledge of the Old Testament?  How did he ever fall into tax collecting?  I suspect there is an interesting back story here.

Another thing that you notice in Matthew’s gospel is that while he aims his gospel at an audience that is familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, he has a certain attitude toward that audience, or at least the part of that audience that does not accept Christianity. His gospel will frequently challenge, or even shock, a Jewish audience.  Even the genealogy is arranged in a way that they may find shocking.

Both Matthew and Luke have genealogies.  Luke’s works backwards from Jesus to Adam, and includes only men.  Matthew’s works forward from Abraham, consistent with his message to his Jewish audience.  Notably, he includes five women:

1.  Tamar, who begot Perez by a desperate act of prostitution.

2.  Rahab, described in the Bible as a harlot, who spied for Israel against Jericho.  She was saved from the destruction of Jericho and married an Israelite named Salmon, and they had a son named Boaz.

3.  Ruth, a foreigner who came to Israel, married Boaz, and had a book of the Bible named after her.  When you think about it, it is amazing that a story about King David’s great-grandmother got preserved.  Why is this poor widow’s story preserved, only to have her name pop up over 1,000 years later?

4.  Bathsheba, the wife of a foreigner (and possibly a foreigner herself), who committed adultery with David.

5.  Mary.

The inclusion of foreign women in the genealogy is meant to humble the Jewish audience, who are prone to trust in their ancestry and status as “God’s chosen people.” In fact, Matthew observes, “pure blood” apparently does not count for much, and foreigners participated in the Messianic line, and will be blessed by the resulting Savior.


[Note:  The following post represents the actual thinking of me during an episode of insomnia, slightly edited.  Insomnia affects millions of Americans, and you should contribute to Insomnia Awareness by worrying about it at 3 a.m. tomorrow morning. No, just kidding about that, and you should probably not finish that 20 oz. cup of coffee if it is past noon.]

Maybe it was the Rum and Coke. Jane, who appears to be sleeping peacefully, has a theory that the Rum cancels out the Coke, so there is no net effect on one’s ability to sleep. That seems to be working for her, but…

I am bigger than her (and that is good, and I REALLY don’t want that to change), but that means my liver is bigger than hers, and that means the Rum is gone (“Why is the Rum gone?”) from my system faster, leaving only the caffeine in the Coke to keep me awake.   Maybe I need twice as much rum to make the formula work.  Of course that has other problems, like turning me into a complete scoundrel.  Why oh why do I need to have a scientific explanation for this? Maybe that’s my real problem.

I finally get relaxed. Well, almost relaxed. It’s 1 a.m., and I just noticed that the bed is creaking. I bet I could fix this in the afternoon, and I am sure I won’t remember it then, or it won’t seem important. I never noticed it before, but it seems like my breathing, Jane’s breathing, and Atticus (the cat) in a certain place sets up some sort of weird harmonic, and the bed is creaking softly.   There, the scientific explanation again. I wish I was either better or worse at science. Then maybe I could move the cat to a spot that would damp out the vibrations, or I would just stop thinking about the problem and realize that Atticus the cat won’t stay anywhere.  He’s a cat, not a counterweight.

It is just a bit too warm to sleep. Why is it 55 in January anyhow? Maybe I should wear a bit less sleepwear. I take off my sweatshirt. Now I am cold. I snuggle up to Jane. Now she wiggles and turns. She stops wiggling and I relax. I feel consciousness slipping away. Now my nose itches and I have to unsnuggle (is that a word?) to scratch the itch. I don’t want to ruin her sleep so I roll to the other side of the bed. I bump into Atticus. Now I am too warm again. Do men my age get hot flashes?

Did I mention worries? I have a few, and when you are half asleep, it is easy to make new ones. They don’t even need to make sense. Just take two completely innocuous facts, string them together, and come to a dire conclusion. The closer you are to being asleep, the better your worry generator works.  If it gets really good, you can even worry about the lives of fictional characters.  Will Hercule Poirot be able to clear Mr. Bates of the suspicious death of Mr. Green?

Since I am not sleeping, let’s try praying. This seems like a plan. There is enough to pray about, for sure, and as the Psalmist says, “The Lord gives His beloved sleep.” (Just not tonight.) Also, the Devil might not want me praying, so maybe he will try to put me to sleep to distract me from praying. Either way, I win.  At 1:30 a.m., this seems like sound theological reasoning.

Alas, old Scratch must be thinking a few moves ahead.  There are other ways to distract me. One of these is sending his minion, the cat, walking on top of me. Usually Atticus takes a few steps on me before using my pillow as a springboard to get on to the window sill. Our (step) Father (step), who (step)… never mind.

I am sorry, I should not have said that mean thing about Atticus.  He is a Loki-worshiper.

Maybe I need a snack to get me sleepy, even though I don’t feel hungry.  And I can check on the status of the kitchen ceiling repair while I am up there. Did the plaster patch really stay up in the ceiling, or did it collapse under the force of gravity? Watching plaster dry might even be soporific. Maybe I can sleep on the sofa. It won’t be good for my back, but then again, the snack won’t be so good for my waist. Oh wait, the cat has moved to the sofa.  So much for that idea. Let’s try the bed again…

It’s 2:30 a.m., and I crawl into bed…

World War D (A Fishing Misadventure)

So Christopher and I decided to go fishing on Saturday morning.  There is a fish called a Burbot, which is like a freshwater cod, and they are supposed to be best to catch off of North and South Piers at this time of year.  They like the cold water, and they like to be in the deeper waters at the end of the channel at the tip of Presque Isle.

They are also supposed to feed at dawn and dusk, so we got up before 6:00 to get some bait and be on the pier before sunrise.  We stopped at Presque Isle Angler to get a dozen minnows.  I guess the guy thought business would be slow, and he needed to move his stock, so he must have put 5 dozen minnows in the bucket.  (If Krispy Kreme were so generous, we would all weigh 400 pounds.)  Then we proceeded to South Pier (see the map on page 3 of this link if you want to know where we were), ready to freeze our butts off to catch a few of these critters.

The parking lot was empty, and we were a bit scared of going out on the pier alone in the dark.  Especially since I have just finished two P.D. James novels recently.  But we got our gear and walked out on the pier as day was beginning to break.  They say that you are supposed to be near the end of the pier for best results, and that is about a quarter mile walk, so we trudged out in the cold, darkness, and wind.

We were just about to bait our hooks when IT happened.  We had forgotten that it was still deer season, and Presque Isle State Park was having their annual deer hunt.  They have a special 3 day hunt every year to keep the herd at a reasonable level, so the deer don’t defoliate the park and then starve.  The hunt is special because since the city is nearby, they have to use only short range weapons.  We did not remember this at the time, because our brains were frozen.

At 7:30, it was apparently light enough for the hunt to start, and we heard about 10 shots go off within a few seconds.  BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!  Just like the hunting scene in Bambi.  The shots were probably a mile away, but the sound carried very well across the bay, and then echoed off the shore, so each shot sounded like two shots and it also sounded like a gun battle was starting on the Lower East Side too.

Since we felt surrounded, and one point of fishing is to be somewhere peaceful and quiet, we skedaddled back off the pier, like soldiers running across an open field between trenches in WWI, though we were really in no danger at all.  We tried fishing in another spot, but it was not the same, so we came home for second breakfast shortly thereafter.

Unspoiling “Death Comes to Pemberley”

It is a good thing that I am a lapsed football fan.  Last night, I could have watched the Steelers put a whupping on the Ravens.  But instead, I yielded to the female side of the household and watched the BBC adaptation of P.D. James’ novel “Death Comes to Pemberley. ”

In case you are tempted to watch this mini-series, I humbly offer you this review.  If you are a Jane Austen fan, or a P.D. James fan, or both, I strongly caution you to have several drinks before watching this.  Then you may find it humorous.

Warning:  This review contains spoilers of the mini-series, but not of the book.

P.D. James’ novel is a fictional account of the world of “Pride and Prejudice”, set about 6 years in the future.  Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy have married, and they are settled at Pemberley, living happily ever after.  But since this is a P.D. James novel, at least one murder must occur, and it happens on the grounds of Pemberley.  Many of the old characters from Pride and Prejudice make an appearance here as the local magistrate attempts to solve the crime, and the residents of Pemberley undergo a severe crisis.

Jane Austen fans will have their opinions about how well P.D. James does at portraying Jane Austen’s characters at this later stage in their lives.  However, there is no doubt that the BBC adaptation does violence both to P.D. James’s novel and to Jane Austen’s characters that the novel is based on.

Here are just a few of the problems with this mini-series, where it varies from the novel in a bad way:

1.  First, the minor stuff.  Elizabeth Darcy is not pretty enough.  Mr. Darcy fell in love with a woman of much lower social standing than himself because he noticed her, and he noticed her because of her fine eyes, among other things.  Mr. Darcy might have fallen in love with this Elizabeth, but first he would have to notice her, and he would not have noticed her because of the social barriers between them.

I contrast, Lydia Wickham looked too well.  I understand that Mrs. Wickham would be one to spend too much money on fancy clothing, but the fact is that after living in relative poverty with Mr. Wickham for 6 years, she should look a bit more careworn.

The married women in this adaptation do not wear bonnets.  Come on, BBC, you know how women dressed during this period.  But now on to the more serious stuff.

2.  In the novel, Elizabeth does not become “the detective.”  She is a much more of a “supportive wife” throughout the book, not Nancy Drew. Oh, and she and Mr. Darcy’s relationship is not strained by this event.

3.  In the novel, Mr. Darcy does not push Georgiana into an engagement with someone she does not love, even though she loves someone else who is quite respectable.  Nor does he reverse himself shortly thereafter,  causing the engagement to be broken.  That is just not something Mr. Darcy would do.

4.  In the novel, there is a minister at the prison who plays an important role in solving the mystery.  He is completely cut out of the mini-series.  Without this character, Elizabeth has to resort to being Nancy Drew.

5.  In the novel, no cravats were loosened, no bodices were ripped (ok, I am exaggerating a bit here, but not much), and there was no pillow talk between a shirtless Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.  Ewww!

6.  In the novel, the chief suspect’s neck was not literally in the noose when Elizabeth runs up to the gallows with the signed confession, saving an innocent man from a hanging.  This is not an American Girls’ novel, and Elizabeth does not save the day.

Now, do not say that I have not warned you.

When Thor was a Woman

I hear rumors that Marvel Comics is making Thor into a girl.  Details are scarce, but apparently, all of Thor’s powers are contained in Thor’s hammer.  If you pick up the hammer and are worthy, you become Thor.  And that masculine pronoun (“HE who is worthy…”) inscribed on the hammer?  Well, that is just the way people talked in the dark days before feminists starting trying to neutralize the language.

I polled my kids on the subject, and they are in agreement that this is just wrong.  We don’t have a problem with women wielding hammers, but Thor is a dude.  Besides, a change like this, if it moves from the comic books into the movies, could deprive Chris Hemsworth of several million dollars, and I shudder to think of where it leaves Natalie Portman.

But, as I tell my kids, when I was their age, Thor did engage in a bit of gender bending.  Here is something he did that found its way into  Bullfinch’s Mythology:

Once upon a time it happened that Thor’s hammer fell into the possession of the giant Thrym, who buried it eight fathoms deep under the rocks of Jotunheim.  Thor sent Loki to negotiate with Thrym, but he could only prevail so far as to get the giant’s promise to restore the weapon if Freya would consent to be his bride.  Loki returned and reported the result of his mission, but the goddess of love was quite horrified at the idea of bestowing her charms on the king of the Frost giants.

In this emergency Loki persuaded Thor to dress himself in Freya’s clothes and accompany him to Jotunheim.  Thrym received his veiled bride with due courtesy, but was greatly surprised at seeing her eat for her supper eight salmons and a full grown ox, besides other delicacies, washing the whole down with three tuns of mead.  Loki, however, assured him that she had not tasted anything for eight long nights, so great was her desire to see her lover, the renowned ruler of Jotunheim.  Thrym had at length the curiosity to peep under his bride’s veil, but started back in affright and demanded why Freya’s eyeballs glistened with fire.   Loki repeated the same excuse and the giant was satisfied.  He ordered the hammer to be brought in and laid on the maiden’s lap.  Thereupon Thor threw off his disguise, grasped his redoubted weapon, and slaughtered Thrym and all his followers.

I doubt that you could make this story into a 2 hour movie, but it could be entertaining, and Loki would have a chance to be the “good guy.”

Churchill and Jeremiah

For my light bedtime reading, I have been going through Winston Churchill’s 6-volume set on World War II.

Meanwhile, for my daily Bible reading, I had been reading Jeremiah. I finished Jeremiah at about the same time as Hitler took over France.  The contrasts are interesting.

Churchill, of course, is famous for saying “Never Give up.” The first two volumes of his work show him urging preparation for war, and then, taking the reigns after Hitler took Norway, fighting a desperate battle with Nazi Germany, even though the British were completely alone and unprepared for war.

But Jeremiah’s message is, essentially, “Give up.” The Babylonians were sent as God’s judgement on Judah, and they were going to kick Judah’s butt. The people of Judah should recognize this, and then repent. Repentance did not mean going to the Temple, saying “I’m sorry”, getting really religious, and then expecting to win their next battle. It meant surrendering to Babylon, and letting them do their thing, which was going to mean that many people from Judah were getting a one way trip to Babylon, where they were supposed to pray for the city, build houses, raise families, and eventually be allowed to return to Judah.  To show his faith in this eventuality, Jeremiah bought a field, which some heir of his would eventually inherit.

The people in Jerusalem heard Jeremiah’s message, but they did not listen.  They decided to “get religion” instead, and keep fighting, until they lost, and Nebuchadnezzar put a governor over them.  Then they assassinated their governor, assuring themselves of more wrath from Babylon.  Instead of giving up, they fled to Egypt, against Jeremiah’s word from God, where Nebuchadnezzar would still catch up to them.

Somewhere in the middle of this reading I thought that the problem with Judah is that Babylon was not their real enemy. God was their enemy, and Babylon was just the weapon in God’s hand, much like Thor’s hammer. And then, around chapter 50, I see this:

How the hammer of the whole earth has been cut apart and broken!
How Babylon has become a desolation among the nations!” (Jeremiah 50:23)

Babylon had been a hammer, and in fact it was the hammer that God used to beat down the nations.  Israel’s problem was not with the hammer but with God who wielded it.  But by Chapter 50 of Jeremiah, the hammer was going to be cast aside.

Is there a point to all this?  Perhaps.

When you are fighting Nazis, “Never give up” is good advice, and you should expend all necessary “blood, toil, sweat, and tears” to win your battle.

But when you are fighting Babylonians, you need to look beyond the immediate problem and see what your real problem is.

An Unintentional Compliment to the Pro-Lifers

Recently, a video appeared, and started to go viral, of some pro-life demonstrators in Columbus, Ohio being assaulted by a rather disturbed young woman. The video is here, but be warned, it contains some very bad language:

In fact, she uses most of the common swear words as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions, and all in the two minutes before the police arrived to arrest her.  She also used big mean names like “Racist”, “Misogynist”, and “Privileged white male”, which indicate that before her Burger King gig, she might have gotten at least a D- in Feminist Theory at the local community college.  (Actually, grades are a masculinist tool of oppression – she might have gotten a B.)  Now she is facing charges, and her chances of making assistant manager at Burger King are considerably reduced.  On the plus side, tens of thousands of Christians saw this video and said at least a quick prayer for her immortal soul (I highly recommend this course of action – she doesn’t seem like someone for whom life is going well), so making an idiot of herself may actually be bringing her closer to the Kingdom.

So how should the average pro-life Christian react to this sort of abuse?  Some people will answer this question by asking the question “What Would Jesus Do?”  But this is rather tricky, because the answer is not obvious.  The answer could involve being silent before one’s accusers, or it could involve chasing someone with a whip.

I suggest that we start by thanking people like her for their obvious high opinion of us.

“But wait,” you say.  “She just called a teenage kid a “racist, misogynist M#*@%@#% A@*#&$.”  Then she attacked a guy, and she piled on more verbal abuse, until she reached the limits of her very limited vocabulary.  How is that a compliment?” You say.

Let’s look a bit beyond the words.  Mean people do mean stuff because they think they can get away with it.  Let’s say she was mad at a great big tattooed biker dude.  Do you think she would slap him?  I doubt it.  She would not trust the man to be a gentleman and not hit a lady.  If she judged wrong, she might soon find out whether her insurance plan covered dental emergencies.  So she would shut her mouth.

And you noticed that she used the word “misogynist” a lot.  Let’s suppose she found herself in a really misogynistic place, like Saudi Arabia, for example, where they don’t let women drive.  Or Afghanistan, where a large portion of the population doesn’t like the radical Western idea of girls going to school.  Do you think she would talk like that to the religious police?  Heck no, she would cover her face and be quiet.

By her verbal abuse, she shows that she doesn’t really believe half of the nasty things that she is saying.  She is affirming that she believes that we “right-wing misogynist, racist, M@#*#$@ A@$*#$s” (I’m sorry if I spelled those words wrong) won’t do anything much more dangerous than turn the other cheek and maybe pray for her.  She actually believes that we will follow The Sermon on the Mount, and not return evil for evil.  I am not sure most pro-lifers believe that about ourselves.  Many of us would be sorely tempted to hog-tie this woman and wash her mouth with soap.  Apparently she thinks more highly of us than we do of ourselves.

Somewhere in that Sermon on the Mount, it says “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If you are a sheep, they say things like this about you, and tacitly admit that you are a sheep.  If they thought you were a wolf, they would act a bit more scared.

So rejoice.