Dear blog-pals, you know by now that I really like my University of Wisconsin library card. I had to return some books, which is of course an occasion to find some more. In exploring the Matthew section (BS 2575.3) I found some other commentaries. I have found it worthwhile to read from scholars who are not from my own “school.” In other words, I cast a wide enough net to catch fish from several schools. We can fall into habitual reading where the eyes see but the mind glides across the surface. Reading some other school authors can sometimes provide a surprise.
Matthew by Douglas R. A Hare in the Interpretation series by John Knox is one example. In talking about the birth narrative in Matthew 1:18-25, he was adamant that Matthew was not speaking philosophical theology, and that one should refrain from plunking your Nicene Credal thoughts into the text.
Well, says I, what are you up to? But I continued until I found this on p. 12
“…In Hebrew, immanu means ‘with us’; El is a short form for the word for ‘God’. Again, we must be careful not to read this through Nicene glasses. In its Matthean context it focuses not on Jesus’ essence but on his function in the divine plan of salvation. At no point in his Gospel does Matthew betray any interest in the philosophy of incarnation. It remained for the Fourth Evangelist to ponder the metaphysical implications of the conviction that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and to articulate this deepest mystery of the Christina faith in his startling declaration: ‘and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ (John 1:14)”
Well, I disagree that Matthew is not that interested in issue of the essence of Jesus as human and divine (Nicene Creed). I find a number of ways where Matthew highlights the divine nature of Jesus in his narrative. See below where I have underlined them.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
What interests me is the idea of Function. Why and to what purpose was Jesus conceived of the Holy Spirit? That is answered in v. 21 “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” I think it is probably true that Matthew’s main interest is the Function of Jesus to be the Savior. He is an evangelist, not a philosopher.
Thus my sermon was born around the two ideas:
- Who Jesus is – human and divine, son of Mary (not Joseph) and the Holy Spirit.
- What Jesus does – saves from sin – the confusion, the guilt and the power of it.