from Old English, gōd spell "good news"
a writing that describes the life of Jesus

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

matthew 2:1-12 | five kings

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi [traditionally wise men] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east [or, "when it rose"] and have come to worship him."

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ [Messiah] was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 

"But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; 

for out of you will come a ruler 
who will be
the shepherd of my people Israel.' " [Micah 5:2]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east [or, "when it rose"] went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

matthew 2:13-23 | egypt, ramah, nazareth

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." [Hosea 11:1]

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 

"A voice is heard in Ramah, 

weeping and great mourning, 

Rachel weeping for her children 

and refusing to be comforted, 

because they are no more."
[Jeremiah 31:15]

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene." [not found in the Old Testament]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

shem | david kossoff | book of witnesses

butcher's stall with flight into egypt | pieter aertsen

I'm not a religious man, you understand, and I didn't have much in the way of an education, but I'm not young and I've travelled a lot and listened a lot and you learn, you know, you learn. I was born in Samaria in the same year that Herod became King. Herod the Great he was called. Well, maybe he was great. He didn't do much for us in Samaria. All right, we are a mixed lot but we are not lepers. Our law is based on the same rules as the rest of Israel. The Law of Moses. One of those Laws is that the children shouldn't suffer for the sins of the fathers. That's a joke. All my life I've suffered for some nonsense generations ago about my people wanting to help in the rebuilding of the Great Temple and being refused because our religion wasn't holy enough. You'd have thought a few extra gods and idols would have made it more religious. And Samaritans are good builders. My family have been joiners and carpenters for a long time. I think that's what first drew me to Joseph.

I'm a journeyman; I work anywhere. My tools are my luggage. When I first met Joseph and his little family in Bethlehem it was the first time I'd ever been there and I've worked all over; Phoenicia, Syria, Parthia, Egypt. Not a big place, Bethlehem. One big inn, a decent synagogue, a meeting hall. Anyway, this inn had been damaged by some sort of religious demonstration. There'd been crowds of people who'd broken things off for souvenirs. A lot of the timber in the stables needed replacing. I heard about it and was taken on. I found a room on the edge of the town. And met Joseph, who lived next door. When he told me he was also a joiner, I told him about the inn and he smiled and said he'd like to help with the repairs. So I put in a word for him and we worked together.

Very quiet man he was. His wife was younger. Her name was Mary. They had a baby boy. Joseph and I worked together for some weeks before I told him I was a Samaritan. 'Oh,' he said, 'I've never been in Samaria. Will you eat with us this evening?'

One night I got in very late. It was pay night and I like a drink. The street was quiet and dark. As I got ready for bed, Joseph knocked on my door. 'Can you help us?' he said, 'We have to leave right away.' We went next door. Mary was packing and the baby was fast asleep in his crib. We have been told by God to go down to Egypt. Right away. Tonight. We know nothing of long journeys. Please help us.'

I went next door and packed my tools. We were out of the place in an hour. We joined a trade caravan of merchants and we kept to ourselves. If people got too inquisitive I used rough talk and said loudly I was a Samaritan. That got rid of them. Sins of the fathers can be very useful sometimes.

Now you might ask why did I go with them. Well, there was nothing heroic in it. I've moved around working in different places all my life. And Joseph had hardly been out of his town. Also we were both joiners, and carpenters can pick up work anywhere if you know the way. Another thing, as I told you, I'm a Samaritan, which at that time, thirty five years ago, just before Great Herod died, was the same as being a leper nearly. No one had a good word for you. You walked by yourself. Well, Joseph was an orthodox Jew and he accepted me like a brother and so did Mary. Even the baby liked me. I was one of the family. Of course I went with them. I looked after them.

We stayed with no one long, for Joseph and Mary were afraid. My gentle friend, who never raised his voice, was a wanted man. Mad King herod himself was after him. Well, not him so much as the baby. I don't know all the ins and outs of it even now, but somehow or other Joseph and Mary had got an early warning that Herod was going to kill all the baby boys under two in Bethlehem. They were not hysterical people, and when they went I went with with them, but I didn't really believe such a thing would happen. But it did. We heard about it. Mary wept for days, and Joseph was quieter even than usual.

We didn't go deep into Egypt. We stayed this side of the great delta of the Nile and found a little house in a village. There was enough work round about and the village people were used to travellers. Joseph never spoke much. Once, when I said I'd no idea how he knew about the order to kill the babies, he said, 'I didn't know. I was told in a dream by an angel of God to leave immediately. My little son was given to Mary by God. I did as I was told.' He was quite serious. I made a sort of joke, I remember. I said, 'Well, when the angel tells us to go back home, let me know I'm not too fond of Egypt.' Joseph laughed.

I forget now exactly how long we lived in the village but one morning I came down and Joseph had the little boy on his knee. Mary was my the stove, Joseph smiled. 'Good morning,' he said. 'we can go home.' 'Another angel?' I said. 'Same one.' said Joseph. 'Herod is dead. It is safe now.' Well, it wasn't so safe really. There'd been riots and disturbances and mass executions, so he would not go back to Bethlehem, but farther north to Galilee, where it was more peaceful. He knew Galilee, he came from Nazareth, and that is where we finished up.

I went with them and helped them find a place and get it fixed up, but then I moved on. Nazareth was a very religious, very orthodox place. Joseph fitted in well, me not at all. I was sorry to go. I saw them from time to time. Then I worked in Syria and Cyprus for a long time and lost touch. But I think of that time often.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

hidden messiah

Matthew was a Jew who ended up a quisling who ended up a Christian Jew. And like so many converts, the faith of his fathers lit on fire when he returned to it. To judge from the book that bears his name, he became fascinated by the way the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible began to be played out in his new Master's life.

So when Jesus, who grew up in Nazareth, relocated to Capernaum, a fishing town and travelers' way-station in the region of Galilee, Matthew heard echoes of Isaiah's prediction that salvation would come - even to the Gentiles! - out of Galilee. And right in that same passage, though Matthew doesn't include it here, the proclamation that it would be the Messiah himself who would come out of Galilee to bring this kingdom that would extend beyond the Jews - the passage that rings out in Handel's "Messiah":

King of Kings
and Lord of Lords
and the government shall be upon his shoulders..

And it's that passage that goes further than some Messianic prophecies, saying not only that "his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor," but also that the Messiah will actually be "the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." I'm not sure the Jews of Jesus' time, so desperate for political liberation, were ready to acknowledge that. Messiah would be a political revolutionary, who would throw off the yoke of the Roman oppressor ("thou has broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff across his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor"), a new Great King in the line of David - but even his disciples were slow to recognize this man before them, probably the Messiah, as God Himself.

Curious also that the people of Jesus' day could read this scripture about the coming Messiah and miss the fact that it wasn't about destroying the gentile oppressors, but rather it announced that they would see a great light, would be delivered from the shadow of death, perhaps that they would be counted in this "multiplied" nation, the new Israel, rejoicing. Indeed, the whole passage is embedded in a section where God brings judgment against His own people, and sends a Messiah who will bless the Gentiles. As spake the prophet Paul (Simon), "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest..."

Intriguing to pick up the echoes of King David's most famous Psalm in the language of Isaiah's proclamation of liberation:
"On those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned. . . .
For thou has broken the yoke of his burden,
and the staff across his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor. . . ."

Psalm 23
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."