Messianic credentials

The Bible readings for today are Genesis 49.2, 8-10; Psalm 72.1-5, 18-19; Matthew 1.1-17.

I know it is tempting to skip biblical genealogies as the unimportant preliminaries before the action gets going but Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus repays careful scrutiny. Matthew uses it to make a number of powerful statements about Jesus. It tells us that Jesus is the ‘Son of David’. This status is conferred upon Jesus by adoption. For, according to Matthew, Jesus is actually ‘Son of God’ (Mat. 4.3,6; 8.29; 14.33; 26.63; 27.40) but adopted into the family of Joseph (a descendant of David) as his son. Jesus is then Son of God, Son of David and Messiah.

The identification with David is further established by use of the three sets of fourteen generations by which the genealogy is divided. This corresponds to the name David which in Hebrew has three letters (דוד) the numerical value of which, when added together, gives the number fourteen. For those with eyes to see Jesus is Son of David and thus Messiah.

The title Messiah accorded not only with Jewish expectation but also with Roman practice. Emperors were sometimes referred to by this term. Additionally, in the Roman world, the very act of providing a genealogy would be read as a claim to status. But if Matthew confers special status upon Jesus, he does so while subverting the notion of status itself. For while Jesus is born of the royal line of David there are a number of distinctly dodgy characters in his ancestry, at least as Matthew constructs it. Jesus is clearly Jewish but there are those in his ancestry who started out as Gentiles. I am thinking particularly of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba (‘the wife of Uriah’). These women (like Mary) turn out, despite suspicion to the contrary, to be virtuous. Jesus is born then to, through and for all people: the righteous and the unrighteous, Jew and Gentile, high-born and low-born. His ‘kingship’ will not be about trampling the poor underfoot but delivering the oppressed and raising the fallen. The God of surprises is at work in the birth of this Jewish Messiah who will question the assumptions of us all, challenge our preconceived ideas and turn our world upside down.

This is Kingship (and Messiah-ship), Jim, but not as we know it!

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