Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Matthew 2:1-12

This passage occurs in both the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary during the Christmas season.
 
Summary:  Don't get hung up on the meaning of the word magi and who they were.  The issue at stake is:  Who is Jesus?  The epiphany of our Lord has begun.  He is Messiah, King, and Shepherd.  Deconstruct the titles and gifts as you will; a good sermon on this text should focus on Christ's identity.  Especially interesting are the parallels between this passage of Matthew 2 and the later scenes with Herod, the chief priests, the scribes and Pilate.

Key words:
μαγοι ("magoi", meaning "magi", 2:1)  as Liddell Scott puts it:  "one of the wise men in Persia who interpreted dreams."  They were probably not kings...but they do bring royal gifts and are granted a royal audience.  They were almost certainly not Jews.  Rather than fixate on their wealth or non-wealth, I think their gentile status is a powerful point, especially in Matthew's Gospel, which spent chapter 1 in a Jewish genealogy.  Jesus is for everyone.

χριστος ("Christ", meaning "anointed", 2:4)  This is a crucial term in Matthew's Gospel.  Jesus is the anointed one, prophesied about for centuries in Judaism.  Matthew uses the term three times in chapter 1.  It will be featured in Peter's confession of faith (16:16) and will later be used in Jesus' suffering and trial (various points in 26 and 27).  In fact, almost all of these titles here for Jesus show up again in Jesus passion:

King of the Jews:  βασιλευς των Ιουδαίων (2:2)  Later in Jesu's life, this will be the accusation made against him, that he claims this (Matthew 27:11); finally, this will be put on Jesus cross (27:37).  It is worth asking -- should only Herod be scared?  No.  All of Jerusalem.  Why?  There is a political-historical reason, but I think a spiritual reason we can all connect with -- what does it actually mean if Christ is king of our life?

Leader:  ηγούμενος (2:6) who shepherds (ποιμαινω, 2:6)  Jesus will tell the people that the Shepherd is going to be struck down (26:31)

In some ways, you could probably match up the gifts of the magi with these various offices (gold for the king; incense for the Messiah; myrrh for the shepherd-leader.)  My point is not to pin down a one-to-one comparison, but rather to say that the text invites one to think about WHO is Jesus Christ.  Hence this is an epiphany text, a revelation of who Christ is.  Like all good texts about Christ's identity, it points toward his suffering and death as well.  A good sermon on this passage invites the reader to consider who Christ is as well.

Two little morsels:
θησαυρος ("thesaurus" meaning treasure, 2:11)  No great analysis, just a lovely word to know in Greek/English.
λιβανον ("Lebanon" meaning incense, 2:11)  The word for incense comes from cedar, because its bark provided the incense.  This is especially funny to me because I live in Lebanon County where people refer to Lebanon as a type of bologna made here.

2 comments:

jesusandthebible said...

In Matthew, the political-historical is also very spiritual, especially with regard to the scribes and Pharisees, as well as the chief priests. Representatives of these powerful groups ruled Jerusalem with Herod, and thus were the main ones troubled at the news of the wise men about a new king (who could replace them all). For these spiritual authorities were also among the political authorities in Israel, with the scribes of the Pharisees ruling over the synagogues as authorities of the law of Moses, the "constitution" of Israel, and the chief priests ruling over the temple.

RJM said...

Thanks for this reminder about the connection between the spiritual and political leaders. My point is that we today should be afraid - or at least stop in our tracks and ponder - of the implications that Jesus is King.