Monday, May 3, 2010


Matthew 1-4

The Gospel of Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus, from Abraham to David (14 generations), from David to the exile (14 generations) and from the exile to Jesus (14 generations). Matthew's genealogy traces Jesus descent through Joseph, who, though his father in the sense that he was married to his mother and raised him, was not his father through siring him. Matthew then tells how Mary "was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit" and an angel told Joseph not to divorce her. He did what the angel said, and "had no union with her until she gave birth to a son" whom they named Jesus.

Chapter two starts with the visit of the Magi, who came to where he was born in Bethlehem and gave him "gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." King Herod heard of the birth of the "king of the Jews" when the Magi came asking for him, and was upset, asking the priests "where the Christ was to be born" and being answered with the words of the prophet Micah. He sent the Magi to Bethlehem to search for the child, and they, after worshipping the child, and having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, "returned to their country by another route." After they had left, Joseph was told by an angel to go to Egypt "for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." Herod ordered that all boys in Bethlehem under two years of age would be killed. When Herod later died, Joseph and his family returned from Egypts and settled in Nazareth.

In chapter three, we hear the story of John the Baptist, who preached in the Desert of Judea, calling on men to "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." He baptized in the Jordan, but when Jesus came to be baptized, John "tried to deter him." He said to Jesus, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now," and John baptized him. "At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'"

In chapter four, Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert where he fasted for forty days and nights and was "tempted by the devil." First, the devil challenged him to turn the stones to bread, then to throw himself off the highest point of the temple, and finally, to bow down and worship him, all of which temptations Jesus refused. Then he began his ministry in Capernaum, preaching the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. Beside the Sea of Galilee, he called Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew, then James and John, the sons of Zebedee. He went through Galilee preaching the good news and healing, and gathered a large following.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Matthew is the first gospel, the first book, in the New Testament, but it is not believed to be the oldest. Conventional wisdom is that Mark's gospel is the earliest of the gospels, and that both Matthew and Luke had access to it when compiling theirs.
  • There is tremendous similarity between the first three (commonly called the "synoptic") gospels, such that a cursory analysis might lead one to wonder why all three are in the canon. It's clear, though, that each has a different audience. Mark's gospel is plain statement of fact, unadorned, and early. It is aimed at an audience of believers, recording the story for them and for posterity. The other two synoptics are both history and evangelistic. Luke's gospel is intended for gentiles. And Matthew's is aimed at a Jewish audience. He is constantly quoting the Old Testament scriptures, everywhere pointing out how Jesus fulfills the messianic prophecies.
  • The nativity is better known from Luke's version, as Matthew does not record the census or the full inn and the stable. Nor does it mention the shepherds. But both Matthew and Luke mention the star, the Magi and the virgin birth.
  • The order in which the temptations in the desert are recorded differs between Matthew's and Luke's accounts.

Psalms 49

A psalm of ... what, exactly? It isn't a praise psalm. It's not really a lamentation. There's not a strong plea, or deep despair. It contains a realistic viewpoint on the temporal quality of earthly riches ("Do not be overawed when a man grows rich...for he will take nothing with him when he dies"), though there's a touch of Ecclesiastes, as well ("all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish...their tombs will remain their houses forever...").

And I still don't know to whom "the Sons of Korah" refers.

Psalm 49
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.
1 Hear this, all you peoples;
listen, all who live in this world,

2 both low and high,
rich and poor alike:

3 My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
the utterance from my heart will give understanding.

4 I will turn my ear to a proverb;
with the harp I will expound my riddle:

5 Why should I fear when evil days come,
when wicked deceivers surround me-

6 those who trust in their wealth
and boast of their great riches?

7 No man can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for him-

8 the ransom for a life is costly,
no payment is ever enough-

9 that he should live on forever
and not see decay.

10 For all can see that wise men die;
the foolish and the senseless alike perish
and leave their wealth to others.

11 Their tombs will remain their houses forever,
their dwellings for endless generations,
though they had named lands after themselves.

12 But man, despite his riches, does not endure;
he is like the beasts that perish.

13 This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.

14 Like sheep they are destined for the grave,
and death will feed on them.
The upright will rule over them in the morning;
their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions.

15 But God will redeem my life from the grave;
he will surely take me to himself.

16 Do not be overawed when a man grows rich,
when the splendor of his house increases;

17 for he will take nothing with him when he dies,
his splendor will not descend with him.

18 Though while he lived he counted himself blessed—
and men praise you when you prosper-

19 he will join the generation of his fathers,
who will never see the light of life .

20 A man who has riches without understanding
is like the beasts that perish.

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