Friday, March 23, 2018

The One-Percent Gospel of Matthew, Chapter One

You may have heard of it: US President Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, had a personalized Bible, one that he had stripped of (to his mind) obviously errant material - those miracles and otherworldly accounts that couldn't possibly have happened. The resulting Bible would have been much thinner, and the God it chronicled would have been similarly far less robust. Talk about a declaration of independence!

At least Jefferson was intellectually honest. It's hard to imagine anyone who hasn't edited the Bible in one way or another. Some people go so far as to add to the Scriptures, whether with more colloquial proverbs and truisms ("God helps those who help themselves") or full narratives that imagine whole new scenes and settings. But more common by far is the editing out, the removal of commands and assertions that offend our sensibilities or trouble our status quos. We may as well be intellectually honest about it.

TWEET THIS: It's hard to imagine anyone who hasn't edited the Bible in one way or another.

For example, me. From a global perspective, I'm firmly entrenched among the 1 percent of the world's wealthiest people. In my own national context, I'm historically and materially privileged by virtue of my gender and skin color. I'm a DINK - double-income household with no kids in it - and so compared to many of my neighbors I'm sitting relatively pretty. What am I to do with some nagging passages from the inspired Word of God?

I'll tell you what I'm to do with them: In the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, I'm to cut them out.

What follows is an annotated One Percent Gospel of Matthew. You'll find it much more amenable to the good life, I promise. The values of law and order and the free market, for example, are firmly ensconced. Good news for me and my tribe. As for the rest of it, everything is on the table. As for the rest of you, God help you.

TWEET THIS: Good news for me and my tribe. As for the rest of it, everything is on the table. As for the rest of you, God help you.

(Text of the Gospel of Matthew is from the English Standard Version.)

***

Chapter One

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,[a] and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.*

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she** was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he*** considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us).
**** When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

* The historical context of Jesus' birth might be mildly interesting, but it is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is that Jesus was, not where he was and through what ethnic lineage he came.
** It's imprudent to offer readers a means of legitimizing parenting out of wedlock, so the details of Jesus' parentage are omitted here.
*** These scandalous details of Jesus' earthly parentage are, similarly, omitted in order to eliminate any insinuation of his illegitimacy.
**** "God with us" is an assurance that is difficult to square with facts on the ground for most of the people in the world; furthermore, confidence that God is with us here, on this plane, in the midst of difficult circumstances, might encourage social disruption as less fortunate people consider that a society inhospitable to people whom God is with might be a fundamentally unjust society.