This is installment two in posts serving as a living history for our house church as we live life together. My reflections are based on our Scriptural focus for the week, since the Scriptures are the primary authority for our understanding of the kind of God-centered life that shows what is meaningful, true, and worth devoting our lives to. As another aside before I get started here, my thoughts in this post are very similar to previous thoughts on Jesus and Kingship, if you’d like to take a look there as well.
Sunday, January 23rd, our house church spent some time in Matthew 2. This chapter of the gospel, maybe more than any other section of the gospel, could seem like “old hat” to those familiar with the Scriptures. This section follows the birth of Jesus, the arrival of Magi from far-off lands, some king’s courtroom intrigue, a major family move to Egypt, some regional genocide, and then a family move back into Palestine. With all of those factors considered, the story doesn’t seem so “old hat,” but I would suggest most people read and/or value this section for two reasons:
1) The birth of Jesus, and
2) the focus of the author on the fulfillment of prophecy
When we focus the meaning of the passage on those two things, other facets of the story tend to fade to the background where we either outright ignore them or we see them as deeply secondary to the prime (important) thrust of the passage.
However, committed Biblical respect should lead us to think about the practical implications of ALL elements of the story, especially focusing more on how people and creation were affected and focusing less on metaphysical thoughts on the supposed meaning of the story. This is also a helpful practice because the average non-Christian, in reading this story, would be immediately, appallingly aware of the genocide and Herod’s uneasiness as King or at least much more so than random quotations about Jesus fulfilling prophecy.
Our brother Steve led off the discussion by highlighting Jewish perspectives on their Scriptures and how they quoted them for their purposes. It’s significant that their understanding differs from the average evangelical approach to the Scriptures today. In reading the statements of belief on church websites today, you can almost hear the panting as they clamor to state their belief that the Bible is “inerrant in its original documents,” which is a surprising move on their parts to state because nowhere in the Scriptures is that claim made. It’s a classic case of taking modern approaches for granted and giving them Scriptural, God-commanded status. This may sound like an innocuous practice, but it’s precisely the sharpest critique Jesus directed at the Pharisees in his ministry, accusing them of settling for a folk religion of their own comfort rather than the command of God.
Steve suggested the Jewish approach to the Scriptures was instead to value all of the gathered writings as important, even the parts that seemed to matter less over time or seemed to be contradicted by other passages. The approach of the community was to affirm the importance of all the passages as a testimony of God’s interaction with them over time; and worthy of returning to time and time again. Just for repetition’s sake, this practice does not place all Scriptures on the same level of “truth” or “relevance.” This is not a textbook (or flat) approach of reading the Bible, but instead a narrative, thoughtful, respectful-to-ancestors way of reading the Scriptures. In other word, they were less obsessive-compulsive about their handling of Scripture, and used them to help give meaning and substance to life, even if a supposed prophecy seems like a stretch today.
We couldn’t help but focus on the King Herod’s dis-ease and eventual genocide as well. Our brother Robert highlighted the difference he observed between King Herod’s approach to challenge and (King) Jesus’ eventual approach to challenge. We reflected on for a bit on what that has to say about our humanity, given that Jesus’ actions weren’t just to prove he was the Messiah, but primarily to be a direct example of what we all were created for. In seeing Jesus, we are to follow him as the example of a human being who “got it,” and in that “getting it,” was a witness to another way of living in the world.
So we confessed together that Jesus’ message was deeply political, meaning that it was intended to bring substantive, radical change to all levels of human society. The more we enter the social and political context of Jesus and read of his ministry and teaching in that context, the more his life pulses with meaning and substance. The idea I inherited from my evangelical upbringing that Christ was usually (or exclusively) concerned with personal relationships at the exclusion of other areas of life becomes more and more hollow, lifeless, and meaningless by the day. It’s just not comprehensive enough.
So Matthew 2 is about contrasting ways of approaching power, about approaching the “other” who may challenge or frighten us, about trusting God’s voice to clarify amidst confusion, about God’s attention to very normal, non-descript people. This section of the story of Jesus highlights what the gospels highlight again and again and again; the dignity and worth of everyone, and how to appreciate and honor that worth in how we view them.