Sabbatical Blog

...chronicling some of my projects and learnings during this time apart from parish ministry

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Begats

I'm reading a fascinating book by my Santa Fe friend, Alexander Shaia, Beyond the Biography of Jesus: The Journey of Quadratos

Here's the review I wrote for Amazon:

"Shaia believes that the four gospels were chosen of the many available to the early church because their writers address and give significant guidance to the four universal stages of spiritual (and indeed, all human) growth, because the gospel writers were not simply writing a biography, but were instead giving the communities for which they were writing guidance, metaphors, and comfort for their situation. The four stages are, first, the beginnings necessitated by the collapse of crucial aspects of our life and characterized by feelings of loss and fear, (Matthew, written for the Christians after the destruction of the Temple), Second, a time of feeling around in the dark for a new path, a time which could be characterized as stormy and difficult (Mark, written for persecuted Christians of the Roman Empire), Times of illumination, spiritual highs, and new insights which fuel our resolution to continue (John), and Fourth, the time of building a new life (a new church) based on the foregoing. (Luke and Acts) This first of two books goes into fascinating and motivating detail about the first two legs of the journey; an upcoming (August 06) book will deal with the second two. It's all very readable and applicable to all kinds of life journeys."

For instance, Shaia writes that the Book of Matthew was written for Christians (who still thought of themselves as a part of the Jewish community) reeling at the destruction of the Temple which had been the center of Jewish life. This kind of feeling of utter shipwreck of one's ideals and centers of value is a common starting place for a spiritual journey.

Matthew's gospel, as you might remember, begins with the often skipped "begats" section; an interminable genealogy which is mostly incomprehensible to moderns. Because I'm one of those moderns it had slipped my notice (this in spite of a seminary course in New Testament) that this is one oddball genealogy. Instead of recording the first sons of the first sons of the great ancestors of Judaism, as might have been expected, it is instead a record of unexpected turns in history, younger sons who were heirs, ner-do-wells that made good, even (gasp) a few women. For instance, one of the ancestors mentioned "David, the Father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah."

How's that, again? Matthew's audience would know the story vividly. Their hero King David once became besotted by the wife of his general Uriah, and not only had an affair with her while Uriah was away fighting David's war, but David gave orders to put him in a situation in which he would surely be killed. God was Not Pleased. None the less, Solomon was born. And here the whole story shows up in the Genealogy of Jesus.

The message: You are a noble people, descended from noble people who have in the past endured strange twists of fate, sinned and were forgiven, and who generally stumbled around in a most human way but continued to be the chosen people. It would be as if one wrote to an American Audience,

You are a noble people descended from the Puritans of New England and the adventurous immigrants from many nations. You are descended from George Washington who held slaves and Thomas Jefferson who had a slave mistress, but who were the framers of a constitution which extended freedom to all people. You are descendents of the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age and of the sturdy Union movement which persevered through great persecution. You have inherited the strengths and weaknesses of the Greatest Generation who fought World War II and who sent Japanese Americans to internment camps...and then let them go.

In other words, it would be a quick telling of history emphasizing the sins and repentances, twists and turns, ambiguities and ambivalences, to the end of motivating people living through a terrible time to persevere.

Ok, so here's the question of the day, to which I hope you American History fans will all help me out.

If you were writing such a quick history, what would it include?

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