Daily Devotional for December 17-23
Luke 14:16-24 Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many,17and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’18But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’19And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’20Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’21So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’22And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’23Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.24’For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”
OSB Commentary: This parable operates on two levels, illustrating both the first and second coming of Christ, who is the servant sent to gather many. Supper indicates evening, the end of the age. The people invited are first the Jews, then all mankind. The Fathers see the three excuses as having both a literal meaning, that many are too attached to worldly cares to accept the Kingdom of God , and spiritual meanings. St. Ambrose sees the three excuses of I cannot come representing the Gentile, the Jew, and the heretic. The Gentile’s devotion to earthly wealth is represented by the piece of ground, the Jew’s enslavement to the five books of the Law by the five yoke of oxen, and the heretic’s espousal of error by the man refusing on account of his wife. Theophylact more generally associates the excuses with people devoted to earthly matters, to things pertaining to the five senses, and to all pleasures of the flesh. Those in the streets and lanes indicate (1) the Gentiles who accepted Christ after the faithless Jews rejected Him, and (2) those outside the Church replacing those within who have rejected their own baptism.
**This week we will examine some aspects from commentaries on the Birth of Christ many from Fr. Lawrence Farley’s series
Matthew then selects certain persons from Jesus’ ancestors [in his geneology of Christ’s ancestors], arranging them in three groups of fourteen. As with many such Jewish genealogical lists, no attempt is made here to be complete, nor to list every single ancestor. The verb begot does not necessarily mean “produced a son,” for it can equally well refer to a grandson, or even a great-grandson. This in itself may go far in accounting for differences in this list from the one given in Luke 3: 23– 38. There are several things to be noted in Matthew’s list. Firstly, there are several women mentioned in the list, a somewhat unusual feature. Tamar is mentioned (v. 3), as are Rahab and Ruth (v. 5), as well as Bathsheba in verse 6 (referred to as her who was the wife of Uriah). Why were these women singled out? Most likely because they were probably all Gentiles— Tamar was a local girl (that is, almost certainly a Canaanite; Gen. 38: 2f). Rahab, the famous harlot, was a pagan from Jericho (Josh. 2: 1f). The gentle Ruth was a Moabite woman (Ruth 1: 4), and Bathsheba was probably a Hittite like her husband (2 Sam. 11: 3). (It would seem that she is left unnamed and referred to only as the wife of Uriah to stress the unrighteousness of her union with David.)
Matthew is concerned to show how the messianic redemption, though beginning in Israel, will spread to all the Gentiles (28: 19), and so he focuses upon these pagan women in Israel’s sacred history. By doing so, he shows that concern for the Gentiles (a feature in the Christian movement he is defending) is not ignoble, but that such Gentiles had their place in God’s plan ever since the days of the Patriarchs. Certainly God’s use of these women was surprising— much as His use of Mary, found to be pregnant before marriage, was surprising to many.
Secondly, after David, Matthew’s list diverges significantly from Luke’s: Matthew mentions Solomon after David (2: 6), whereas Luke mentions Nathan (Luke 3: 31). The variations are possibly due to levirate marriage (that is, a man marrying two women, both his first wife and then the wife of his deceased brother). I would suggest, though, that the variations are due to differences of approach. Luke gives Christ’s biological descent, whereas Matthew concentrates on legal descent, naming the members of the family who were in line for the Davidic throne. Thirdly, after so many instances of the active voice of the verb begot (Gr. gennao), there comes at last a single instance of the passive voice of the same verb, used to describe the conception of Jesus from Mary (v. 16). That is, after so many times hearing that “So-and-so begot So-and-so,” we expect to see the climax as “Joseph begot Jesus of Mary,” but this is not what we read. Rather, Joseph is described as the husband of Mary, and then the spotlight shifts to her, of whom was born Jesus. Such sudden shifting of pattern is unexpected— just as the Virgin Birth of Jesus was in its day unexpected. Up until then, men took the active part, but now they are passive. God has now taken the active role in the saving history of His people. Fourthly, it is significant that the names are arranged into three groups, and especially so since the groups are not of equal chronological length. From Abraham until David is about 750 years; from David until the deportation to Babylon is about 400 years; and from the deportation to Babylon until the Christ is about 600 years. Matthew is not dividing the names up equally; he is marking signposts along the way of redemption. From Abraham to David, history was marked by God’s fidelity to His covenant with the patriarch, and stood under the shadow of that great promise. From David to the Babylonian exile, history centered on God’s covenant with the house of David and was marked by the rise and fall of its fortunes. After the exile, the focus was on God’s coming restoration, when He would fulfill all His promises to the struggling postexilic community and “raise up God’s servant David,” the Davidic Messiah, “to feed Israel and to be their shepherd” (Ezek. 34: 23). By arranging Israel’s history in this manner, Matthew shows how Jesus Christ came right on time, to fulfill all of history’s hopes.
Regarding the thirteen names on the list from the exile to Christ, it would seem that (as both St. John Chrysostom and Blessed Theophylact suggest) the deportation to Babylon itself is counted as one generation. Certainly St. Matthew focuses on this event in his reckoning of the generations in verse 17. He stresses the event of the exile (rather than a person living at that time) because, as was said above, his aim is to mark off the epochs throughout history. Israel lived in the shadow of the promises to Abraham, and to David, and then in the shadow of the Exile, expecting the postexilic restoration. It was the Exile that determined Israel’s future hope, not anyone living at that time. And why pick fourteen generations (however counted)? It was a memory device, of course, but twelve or fifteen generations would have worked just as well. I suggest that the number fourteen was chosen because Matthew is using a typically Jewish bit of teaching. The numerical value of the name “David” in Hebrew is fourteen, and Matthew was stressing how the Davidic Messiah arose from Israel’s history.
Admittedly his Gospel was written in Greek, not Hebrew. But it was written to Jews familiar with Hebrew, and he expects his readers to be able to work their way back to their Hebrew roots. (See the reference in 1: 21, in which the Hebrew meaning of the name Jesus/ Yeshua is expected to be understood, and the play on words mentioned in 2: 23— a play on words present only in the Hebrew version of the Scripture cited.)
The birth of Jesus Christ is now described as happening thus: When His Mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together in marriage and cohabitation, she was found having a child in the womb. Betrothal in those days was a legal reality, making the couple actually husband and wife (compare the references to Mary as Joseph’s wife in vv. 20, 24), and such a union could only be broken by actual divorce. The couple was betrothed (usually when the girl was no more than about fourteen years old) and then went to live conjugally a year later, after the actual marriage. It was during this time between the betrothal and the actual marriage to Joseph that Mary was found to be pregnant. This was not due to any sexual encounter, but was entirely from the Holy Spirit.
Joseph, her legal husband, was a righteous man, and as such refused to marry a woman who (he had no choice but to assume) had been involved in an immoral liaison. Nonetheless, as a compassionate man, he was not wanting to disgrace her by open and public denunciation for fornication (which brought with it, technically, the penalty of stoning; see Deut. 22: 23– 24), and so intended to dismiss and divorce her covertly. No open denunciation was required; only the presence of two witnesses who could testify to the fact of the divorce. It was while he was reflecting on these things and trying to arrange the time and place for it that behold (the word indicates a surprising event), an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Dreams, though quite properly held in suspicion by the spirituality of the desert fathers (for usually such dreams mean nothing, or else can be used by the enemy), were used by God to communicate with His chosen instruments, such as Jacob and Daniel (Gen. 28: 12f; Dan. 2: 19). In this case, God sent His angel to communicate with Joseph as the Lord’s foster-father.
Joseph is addressed as son of David, for it is through his legal lineage that Jesus is the messianic Son of David and heir to the promises made to David’s house. Joseph is admonished to not be afraid to take Mary his wife home to live as his legal spouse. He is not to continue with his plans to divorce her, for that which is begotten in her is from the Holy Spirit, as she (perhaps) said to Joseph. She will give birth to a son (not a daughter) and Joseph is to call His Name Jesus, for it is He Himself (the pronoun is emphatic) who will save His people from their sins. Through the boy Jesus, Israel will find forgiveness of sins and the blessing from God which flows from this. Matthew adds that this whole thing happened that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled, saying, “Behold, the virgin will have a child in the womb, and will give birth to a son, and they will call His Name Emmanuel” (Is. 7: 14). Matthew adds for his Gentile readers the explanation that this is translated as “God is with us.”
After this, Joseph was raised by God from his sleep, and (not unnaturally) he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. That is, he took his wife home with him after a decent period of betrothal, breaking off his plans for divorce. Matthew stresses that throughout this period of betrothal he was not knowing her sexually, even up to the very time when she gave birth to a son. Matthew says this to stress that Joseph could not therefore be the child’s father. After the birth (a son, not a daughter, confirming the word of the angel about the Child’s significance), he called His Name Jesus on the day of His circumcision, when names were customarily bestowed. In saying Joseph was not knowing Mary until she gave birth to a son, Matthew does not imply that after the birth he was knowing her sexually. The word “until” is ambiguous. It can indicate such a change, but not necessarily. Whether or not any change of state is demanded is determined entirely by the context. Thus in Isaiah 46: 3, Yahweh declares to Israel, “You have been carried by Me from your birth until your old age.” This use of “until” does not imply that after Israel’s old age Yahweh will no longer be with them. Similarly, in 28: 20, Jesus declares that He will be with His Church even “until the consummation of the age”; this does not mean that after the consummation of the age Jesus will no longer be with them. In the same way, this verse does not mean that after Jesus’ birth Joseph was knowing Mary. Matthew’s only concern is to stress that prior to the birth of Jesus there were no conjugal relations between Joseph and Mary, so that Jesus’ birth was truly virginal. In fact, Jewish thought of that day made it impossible for a pious man to approach conjugally a woman who had been the object of the Spirit’s power.
After the story of the annunciation to Joseph, Matthew relates another story, that of the visit of the magi after the birth of Christ. The magi (Gr. magos) were originally members of the Persian priestly class, skilled in ancient sciences such as astrology. By the first century, the term had come to mean often simply a fortuneteller, a cheap charlatan (thus Elymas the magos in Acts 13: 6). These magi, however, were venerable men, seekers after eternal and universal truth. In every land God has those who seek Him, though He may be concealed under a variety of names, and these magi were such seekers. Their number is not given. Chrysostom and Augustine supposed there were twelve, while others (because of three kinds of gifts listed) supposed there were three. They dwelt in the east, though exactly where in the east is also not stated. Some thought Persia (because of their historical origins there), and others, Arabia. There was a large Jewish population in Babylon, from whom the magi could have learned messianic ideas, and this is perhaps the best guess as to their land of origin. Wherever they first dwelt, they saw a great wonder in the heavens, a star (that is, a heavenly light), and they naturally assumed that such a heavenly wonder was a portent of a corresponding earthly one. Just as a great star was born in the sky, so a great king must have been born on the earth. In those days, expectation was widespread of a coming golden age brought by a mighty king. Perhaps it was because Jewish ideas about Messiah had spread into the surrounding cultures, but (as the Roman historian Suetonius wrote in his Life of Vespasian), “There had spread over all the east an established belief that it was fated for men coming from Judea to rule the world.” When the magi saw the star and thought it to be the natal star of a great king, it was natural for their eyes to turn to Judea.