…we sometimes say, meaning “it’s absolutely true”. This strikes me as rather strange, given that most people in our society don’t regard the four gospels of the New Testament as a benchmark of truth – and even those of us within the church have difficulties understanding the nature of the truth they encapsulate.
Last evening six of us gathered in Woodlands Methodist Church, Glasgow, to look at how Matthew and Luke tell the Christmas story (with just passing references to Mark who doesn’t and John who takes it to a different level). Matthew begins with that long genealogy (which we have now discovered to be the set passage for this morning in the Methodist daily lectionary) rooting Jesus in the correct family – heir of the great Jewish King David. We were challenged to try to understand how it is not the bloodline which matters to Matthew, but the family line – sometimes when reading the gospels we have to set aside so much of our own cultural conditioning. For Matthew, Joseph is the key character and his acceptance of Mary and the child to be born is absolutely crucial to what Matthew is telling us – and it’s a strong story too. We suggested that, in some ways, Matthew could therefore be seen as telling the story from a man’s perspective, and Luke, with all his intimate material about Mary, as giving the woman’s perspective.
However, we also spent a few minutes talking about the four OT women who are mentioned by Matthew in that genealogy – Ruth, Tamar, Rahab and “the wife of Uriah” (Bathsheba). All four carry backstories which contain – to differing degrees -strands of dubious or abusive sexual morality and I wonder if Matthew included them to offset any slur being cast on Mary, an unmarried mother… well, I could get carried away, but no room for that now. Luke’s account is contrasting – tender and humble, drawing in, as Luke always seeks to do, the least, the last and the lost.
Should we mix them in the way we do? Should we send Christmas cards which have the whole cast all there together in a stable (which is never mentioned), alongside the donkey, ox and ass (also not present in the gospel narrative)? Or should we strive to hear the voices of the gospel writers more accurately? It was a lively discussion, and I guess we will all hear those passages afresh this year.
So, on this second of the “nine mornings” I share a photo of three generations of a family celebrating Christmas together in Chateaubelair, St. Vincent in 1994. Where we come from does matter, as Matthew knew. Three of those in the photo have completed their earthly journey and I commend my parents and Peter to God, in thankfulness for their lives and for God’s everlasting love – the “Good News” (which is a much better understanding of “gospel” than the one we started with!) Jill