Wineskins Archive

February 3, 2014

A Christian Educator Revisits “A Christmas At Matthew’s House” (Dec 2002)

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by Holbert Rideout
December 19, 2002

Like many readers of the November issue of Wineskins I read through “Christmas at Matthew’s House” the first time without much reaction. After hearing that some were reading much more out of the article than I, my wife and I returned to it and together we made a special study of it, referring to the appropriate biblical passages as we went along. Because our experience was so rewarding, I would like to present a “study guide” to use with Andre Resner’s article in order to get a better understanding of the birth of Christ as it is presented in Matthew’s Gospel.

Quite often readers will come to the Bible expecting to find its truths in statements of fact, and with almost mathematical precision. Some of it comes to us in that form, but quite a lot of the Bible is in narrative, or story, form. We even see Jesus teaching this way. This type of form must be read, wondered about, and pondered over as one insight tumbles in on another. The more we savor it the more we get out of it. In “Christmas at Matthew’s House” we are reading an account of a first century happening which Resner has written in a contemporary narrative form using Matthew’s account as the source.

Resner’s article asks another thing of us. We are asked to read a first century story and listen to it told through the eyes of a Christian some twenty centuries later.

Now read Resner’s article. But you may protest, “I can’t even get past the first sentence. What does he mean by saying that ‘Matthew is sneaky’?” Try this. Look at the first chapter of Matthew. What do you see? Just a genealogical listing, then a quick plunge into a short factual account of the birth story of Jesus. Since that is all we see, Matthew does sneak something by the modern American reader. But it is my firm conviction that he did not sneak it by the first century Jews. In a time like ours when genealogies function to bore the reader, and thus cause him to skip it to get on to the “meat,” Matthew does indeed sneak by us. Yet, for the first century readers such a beginning would have had great significance. They would have seen their family tree, and in all of it only four women are noted, all of whom stood out because in some way or another scandal attended their story. It is the stories of these women that serve as the background for Matthew’s story of the birth of the Christ child. Use your Bible along with Andre’s article to complete your study:

Read Genesis 38. Don’t skip it this time; and don’t read it too fast. This is an example of the Levirate marriage law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). See how the signet ring could have been any form of I.D. that we might have. What kind of signet might one use today to verify their identity, or to secure a purchase?
Read Rahab’s story (Joshua 2; 6:23, 25; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). Imagine the worst possible scenario, the best possible scenario, and then what you think did happen. But after all that, leave it open because we really don’t know what happened.

Read the Book of Ruth, and for the purposes of this study read the part about Ruth and Boaz at the threshing floor carefully (Ruth 3). This, too, is an example of the Levirate marriage law. The narrative is extremely suggestive, especially in the Hebrew where it uses a key Hebrew euphemism (“feet”), but it does not actually tell us what happened that night. It is clear, however, that Boaz did not want anyone to know that Ruth had been there all night.

The last story is that of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). David is the one person that I would most like to think of as being a pure man. After all, he was the man after God’s own heart. But we cannot make him pure. The biblical text accuses him as a sinner when it mentions him as being a great king, “except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.”

In conclusion, “Christmas at Matthew’s House” is a piece of creative writing which attempts to tell Matthew’s story in a contemporary story form. If we read and study the Bible stories again we may see that Andre has served us by involving us in the Bible in a way that we may have missed. My wife and I have been helped in our own faith by this challenging piece. We appreciated going back through the stories of the four women listed in Matthew’s genealogy and felt humbled as we realized how God does work through various individuals in his own way. That study gave us a new perspective from which to view the birth story from Matthew.

We are grateful to Andre for leading our thoughts in this direction. And we are grateful for Andre’s own faith-a faith which we believe he holds in the virgin birth, the cross, and the resurrection. May more rise up to call us continually back to the Bible and thus to a living faith. New Wineskins

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