Lent for Everyone, by N. T. Wright

Matthew 1:1-25

1The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren;
3And Judah begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
4And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon;
5And Salmon begat Booz of Rahab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;
6And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias
7And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa;
8And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias;
9And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias;
10And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias;
11And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:
12And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel;
13And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor;
14And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud;
15And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob;
16And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
17So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
18Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
20But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

ASH WEDNESDAY

We know very, very little about Joseph. Some legends make him an old man who died while Jesus was growing up, but we don’t know that for sure. We know he worked in the building trade, including what we call carpentry. We know he could trace his ancestry back to the ancient royal house of David and Solomon (many first-century Jews knew their family history as well as many today know the story of their favorite soap opera, or the fortunes of their football team). And we know that Joseph faced a unique personal and moral challenge, and came through it with integrity and humility. Joseph, in this passage, provides a sharply personal angle for us to approach Matthew’s gospel.

Think how it was for him. Marriage beckons, quite likely arranged by the two families but none the less an exciting prospect. A home. Children. A new status in the community — in a small town where everyone knows everyone else and where, without television, everybody else’s life is part of a complex daily soap opera.

And then the shock. Mary has news for him, news to send a chill down the spine of any prospective husband. How can he possibly believe her strange story? What will people say? So he plans, with a heavy heart, to call the whole thing off.

Then, the dream. Mary’s story is true. What’s more, she and her child are caught up, not just in a personal challenge, but in a much older, stranger purpose. God’s purpose. God’s rescue operation, long expected and at last coming true. The child to be born will be ‘Emmanuel’, God-with-us. God with us to save us: hence the name ‘Jesus’, the same word as ‘Joshua’, the great leader who brought the people of Israel across the Jordan into the promised land. The name means ‘Yahweh saves’. God with us; God to the rescue.

Whenever God does something new, he involves people — often unlikely people, frequently surprised and alarmed people. He asks them to trust him in a new way, to put aside their natural reactions, to listen humbly for a fresh word and to act on it without knowing exactly how it’s going to work out. That’s what he’s asking all of us to do this Lent. Reading the Bible without knowing in advance what God is going to say takes humility. Like Joseph, we may have to put our initial reactions on hold and be prepared to hear new words, to think new thoughts, and to live them out. We all come with our own questions, our own sorrows and frustrations, our own longings. God will deal with them in his own way, but he will do so as part of his own much larger and deeper purposes. Who knows what might happen, this year, if even a few of us were prepared to listen to God’s word in scripture in a new way, to share the humility of Joseph, and to find ourselves caught up in God’s rescue operation?

TODAY

Speak to us, Father, in a new way as we read your word. Help us to hear your voice and follow where you lead.

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