Chapter 4 Genealogy as Destiny pages 81-98 and Chapter 5 An Angel Comes to Mary pages 99-127
I will admit, these chapters get heavy and don’t have the same catchy approach as the first section did. Matthew and Luke’s genealogies are not particularly riveting, which is why we mostly ignore them. I’m glad Borg and Crossan spend some time on this because it does play a part in the story, but it wasn’t the easiest chapter to wade through.
I remember as a child, the church I attended made a Jesse Tree each Advent. We placed a felt symbol on it day of the month of December. We began with Adam and Eve and moved through the Hebrew Scriptures naming people in the lineage of Jesse, until we got to Jesus. I remember the minister saying something about it telling the story of the history of our faith. But it didn’t thrill me, and I had mostly forgotten about it until I read chapter 4. I wonder now, if I were exploring the biblical history through that approach if it would mean something different to me as an adult.
I do think pointing to their place as a mini-overture is interesting, and it has helped me to further develop my understanding of those two gospels and their differences.
I expected to be more excited reading the chapter that deals with the virginity of Mary. It isn’t a piece of the story that has ever held relevance for me, I think the guy Jesus is more interesting and inspiring than how he came to exist, but I did expect to get caught up in this more. Ultimately, I found the comparison to both Hebrew Scriptures (where miraculous births came to women who were older or barren) and with Greco-Roman history (where Gods and Goddesses engaging in intercourse and impregnation with mortals was a regular part of the story, and virgin births were not unheard of) VERY helpful for understanding why this got written into the story.
In my Introductory Hebrew class at Theological College, I remember being given the Isaiah 7:14 verse to translate. We were expected to do in-depth research into the exact meaning of the word we have interpreted as “virgin.” It turns out, with the help of people who study ancient biblical hebrew, “young woman” is more accurate, but Matthew insists Virgin is important.
Again, like in the Geneologies, the importance stems from a comparison and overshadowing of Caesar. Using the stories of the time to tell this story, where Jesus is more important, more worthy than Caesar.
It would have been wonderful if Borg and Crossan had concluded each chapter with a section entitled “and this is what this means for people in the church now” but they didn’t. When I heard Crossan speak this spring, he was approached by a woman who asked him questions not about his lecture, but about how the church should function. He calmly explained that he provides the context, the matrix for the scriptures, and it is up to us, the church, to figure out how to use the information to live as Christians.
This book does not bluntly tell us what meaning we should derive from Matthew and Luke’s nativity stories, but it does tell us why they were written the way they were. From these two chapters we hear of Jesus who is being set up to be more than Caesar. So what do we do with that?
I think there are implications on our overall faith, on our worship and church life and on how we live our lives (as faith should lead to action).
If the important take away from the genealogies and the emphasis on Mary as a virgin, is that these stories set up Jesus who is greater than Caesar, that tells us something about our own world and our own Caesars. It means that we are welcoming again (and again) the one who is greater than the political leaders of our time as well.
These Gospels set point to the standard narrative (That of the Romans and their leadership) and offer a subversive alternate that piggybacks onto their story and then one-ups it. This is important because we too live in a time with a problematic standard narrative. For the church to hear that alternative narratives can be developed is good news. But we hear from these chapters that the second narrative has to be developed from the first, and it needs to compete.
The standard narrative in our society is about capitalism and fear, and the response of the powerful. This is not dissimilar from that in Jesus’ time.
But in Jesus, we are offered an alternative. We are offered a story that tells us repeatedly “be not afraid,” that its is in the unexpected (the women in Matthew’s Genealogy, and Mary as a peasant mother) that we find the alternative. And that the alternative can change the world!
It means that when we talk about welcoming the “Prince of Peace” we acknowledge that is at Title that was first Caesars, and also we are not welcoming the kind of peace we hear of in the hymns, the Silent Night kind of peace, but peace between nations because it is achieved non-violently.
Welcoming this baby who will be greater than Caesar, and who is greater than the Caesars of our time, means we are welcoming a way of living out that subversive peace, the alternate narrative.