December 2, Matthew 1:1-17
By Milton Horne, Director, Partee Center for Baptist Historical Studies
Readers seldom read the genealogical links in Jesus' story, but Matthew's are particularly important in the opening verses of his gospel. That's so, not least because they conclude with two references to the Babylonian captivity (v. 17). Matthew implies that this captivity has continued right up until the time of Jesus' birth! Why? For a Jewish audience of the first century such an allusion evoked the kind of response that references to the Holocaust might evoke today — a time of unspeakable loss, including loss of identity, that continued into their present. And due to the resulting diaspora, it was no longer clear what it meant to be the people of God.
Soldiers returning from deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan report similar difficulties. They speak of incredible disruptions of life, the blurring of life's purposes, even the questioning of their own identities as persons. My own son, returning from a recent deployment to Iraq, speaks similarly. "It's easy to forget who you are, not just because you're far from home, but because you're involved in something that is so foreign to who you are," he told me not long ago. Such is the way of warfare.
I can only think that by alluding to the Babylonian captivity, Matthew is trying to highlight his perception of the hopeless condition of his world. Thereby, he also illumines the hope that embraces the world with the coming of the Christ, a hope that bears a new vision of the people of God.