Matthew 1

Why Matthew? If you’re interested in the answer to that question, you might want to first read  There’s Always a Beckoning

I began this chapter with a desire to skip it. Genealogy doesn’t interest me much and the whole thing seemed like a lot of boring foundation details for Matthew’s  painstaking argument that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah.  I appreciate Matthew’s purpose in that regard, but it was getting in the way of what I wanted from his gospel. I wanted the Messiah to show up and start talking!

So, I was jogging through the first twenty verses, eager to check this chapter off my list, when I bumped into Joseph, and this is what I saw: a modest, thoughtful man, slow to react, quick to obey, law-abiding, and merciful, a man whose righteousness was characterized not by adhering thoughtlessly to the law, but by careful consideration and compassion, placing concern for Mary above his rights, and by immediately obeying God, even when it meant sudden, drastic changes.

To start, when Joseph finds out that Mary, his betrothed, is pregnant before they have had an opportunity to consummate their relationship,  he prefers that the whole thing be kept quiet, because “he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace”.  He thinks that a quiet divorce is the best solution. This was a man who was “faithful to the law”, a law which gave him every right to gather men from their village and beat Mary to death with stones.

Then, in verse 20, I read that Joseph is “considering” the whole mess. He is thoughtful,  intent on making a sound decision.  I was reminded of  James,  “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”( 1:19-20, NIV)  Whatever Joseph may have felt about Mary’s apparent betrayal, he doesn’t lash out with an emotional response, or even react with a quick decision. The time Joseph takes to think things over gives God an opportunity to encourage and instruct him. In the midst of his careful deliberation, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and explains everything to him. God commands him to take Mary home as his wife, and when Joseph wakes up, he obeys.

I was deeply impressed by Joseph’s humility, mercy, and obedience. How often do I bypass an emotional response in pursuit of wisdom and allow God to lead me in my reaction? (Not often enough, I’m afraid.) When I am deeply hurt, I am not inclined to consider what is best for the offender. While I may have the maturity to respond calmly to the situation,  internally I am seething with anger. And if there is any moral code to justify my fury, my self-righteousness will feed on it until I am ready to burst.

Anger has a way of leaping ahead of everything else, demanding first place in my heart. Unchecked, it shoves reason aside, dodges humility and tramples mercy into the dust. In other words, when anger is allowed free reign, I am far too quick to speak; I am slow to listen; I do not produce the righteousness that God desires.

I finished chapter one inspired to practice patience and humility and with a strengthened desire to value righteousness over being right.




There is Always a Beckoning

img_1105I felt restless last year. There was an uneasiness in my faith, a shifting of sands, and something else, too.  A sense of distance between myself and my First Love. And, as I’ve experienced many times before, when there is a distance, there is always a beckoning, a sweet, gentle invitation to draw near. Sometimes the call is to prayer, forgiveness, or to community. Often,  I need time for quiet, solitary meditation. This time, I was drawn to the life and words of Jesus.

Though I grew up in the church and have heard or studied portions of the bible over and over, there are only one or two books that I have read and meditated upon from beginning to end. The gospel stories, for example,  are as familiar as a cozy, well-loved quilt. But, familiarity is not intimacy, and last year, I  was aware of a heart-deep desire to look closely at the life of Jesus as captured by his first biographers, and to carefully read and consider the words he spoke.

Suddenly, I was no longer satisfied with segments, or by any number of paraphrases or commentaries.  I wanted, quite simply, to read from beginning to end. I wanted to take it all in at my leisure and consider the readings in prayer and meditation. Most of all, I wanted to respond to my Love, who urged, “Let me tell you who I AM.”

So, for the last several months I’ve been doing just that. Matthew seemed like the natural starting point, so I cracked open my study bible, laid out some fresh paper and started reading. Sometimes I scour reference materials when my understanding needs a bit of a boost, but mostly I read, reread, note a lot of questions, scribble some thoughts, meditate, check out cross-references, pray, and read some more. I have no set schedule, only the desire to better know the one I call Lord.

Over the coming weeks I’ll share some of the summary thoughts and observations that I jot down as I make my way through the Gospel of Matthew. For now, I’ll say this about the experience: it is good to be near the One I love.