Did you know?
Infancy Narratives Part III
Matthew is Jewish and so is the community for whom he is writing. It is therefore not surprising that his Gospel is framed within the context of Jewish tradition. He sets out to assure his audience of the continuity between the Law, the Prophets, Jewish belief and Jesus’ teaching. He does this in his infancy narrative by inserting the phrase, “for thus it had been written by the prophet.” He uses this device five times. Speaking about the return of the Holy Family from Egypt he writes, “He stayed there until the death of Herod that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” Mt 2: 15 / Hos 11: 1 (Cf 1: 22; 2: 5; 17; 23)
For Matthew, Jesus is the New Moses. Joseph was responsible for the Israelites going to Egypt. It is also Joseph who takes Jesus into exile. Moses’ life was threatened by a bad king (Pharaoh). It was Herod who threatened Jesus’ life. At the time of Moses’ birth many baby boys were put to death, so too when Jesus was born. Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt into freedom. Jesus is brought back from Egypt to the promised land.
As Moses leads his people through the desert he is confronted by an evil king, Balak. Balak sends for a wise man, Balaam, who like the wise men obeys God rather than the wicked king. (Num 22 – 23)
Given his concern to link Jesus into the story of the Jewish people it is not surprising that he begins his genealogy with the call of Abraham, “Abraham became the father of Isaac.” What is surprising is the people he includes among Jesus’ ancestors; cheats, thieves, adulterers and murderers. Shocked? It is going to get worse.
Five women are mentioned and Mary is the only Jewess. Tamar (Gen 38), Rahab (Josh 2), Ruth (The book of Ruth), Bathsheba (referred to as Uriah’s wife) (2 Sam 11) are the characters in “Isidingo, according to Matthew”. All these women have an ‘unusual sexual history’ to say the least.
Bathsheba was the wife of one of David’s commanders. One day David spotted her taking a bath on the roof of her home!! One thing led to another and she fell pregnant, David being the father of her child. To cover up the scandal David organized the death of her husband Uriah. The child that was born was Solomon.
The point that Matthew is making is, “that God’s salvation comes through the foolish and the fragile, the crooked and the cracked. Anyone can play a part in God’s plan, which finds its fulfillment in Jesus, who is called Christ.” 1
There are many lessons to be learned here:
Good can come out of shady deeds. The women’s presence among the male ancestors of Jesus, signals the important role that women disciples will play in the community of Jesus’ followers.
These narratives about Jesus’ infancy are not sweet children’s stories. The themes of murder, violent leaders, refugees, and the poor running for their lives make up the introduction to Jesus’ work. In his adult life we will find Jesus battling every kind of prejudice, greed and injustice.
* * * * * *
Luke also parallels the Old Testament. The Jewish story starts with an old couple who have no hope of having children, Abraham and Sarah. Luke opens his Gospel with Zachariah and Elizabeth in the same situation. Both elderly couples are promised that they will have a son. To everybody’s surprise they do.
We are all aware of the Covenant given to Moses at Sinai. There is however a second covenant, the Covenant given to David. (2 Samuel 7)
9 I shall make for you a great name ..
13 I shall establish the throne of his kingdom forever
14 I shall be his father, and he will be my son ..
16 And your house and your kingdom will be secure forever.
This is an unconditional covenant. It will not be revoked. This covenant is inserted into Luke’s Infancy Narrative.
“He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (1: 32-33)
It is important for Luke to portray Jesus as the son of David. This he does when he mentions that Jesus was wrapped in ‘swaddling clothes’. In Wisdom 7: 5, Solomon, David’s son is ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes’. Jesus is the new son of David and his kingdom will have no end.
1 McBride, Denis; Jesus and the Gospels, p 16