Well. Isn’t That Special.

JMJ
The Readings for Monday 1 Advent (Year 2):
I heard a sermon on this passage once where the Centurion’s servant was called his lover. At that time, I did a search (I think it was called “Ask Jeeves” in that century, or maybe Yahoo) and I found no resources at all for that reading. It was one more brick in the bridge that lead me out of the Episcopal Church towards truth. Today, however, a well constructed google of Jesus and Centurion, or Centurion and Boy, will bring a ton of scandal your way.

On the one hand, “doulos” is slave and Matthew decided to use “pais“. I think that’s a purposeful choice. On the other hand, the idea that Jesus would be so indirect in making a change of direction in the religion is laughable. The idea that he would be so very indirect as to require 2 millennia of culture to “finally figure it out” is Satanic. This is God in the flesh. He’s already said a bunch of things to anger the religious authorities of the day (including somethings about sex). The idea that he can only hint, here, in ways it will take 21st century Americans to finally get is like saying God was “limited by his culture”.

Jesus was not endorsing a gay relationship. And certainly not one that was based on power and domination or, power, domination, and paedophila.

But Matthew chose pais and not doulos. Why? We’ll not know this side of asking him in glory, but I think there’s a pattern here – not just in this story, but in all of Matthew. And I think it ties in with Matthew the Tax Collector turned into Evangelist: Mathew is king of the unexpected.

The Gospel of the Ancestry of Jesus from Matthew 1:1-25 is a tongue-twisting text contains three surprises: Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. It is held by some scholars that this text describes the actual lineage of Joseph who was thought to be Jesus’ father. (The different tracing in Luke is thought to be of Mary.) So, of course, this is not a lineage by blood – for Joseph had no part in Mary’s childbearing. Yet this lineage, cited by St Matthew’s Community, contains a two – or maybe three – Gentile women, with one being a prostitute and another an adulteress.

This parallels well other of St Matthew’s texts which might be read as surprising – if not downright scandalous – to his community. He’s got a Centurion and his “boy” as we read today, gentiles, sinners… At the end of the Gospel (28:17) he even commissions people who doubt him – seen with their own eyes – to preach his gospel! Given what we think, today, about how the Gospels were written: a collection of sacred stories remembered in a given Community and codified and written down for use in that community. When something is (assumedly) shocking to the community and yet included in the text, then, we might want to think it more likely to be true. Your Messiah had as ancestors a prostitute, an adulteress and, at least, two (maybe three) gentiles.

“Gasp,” say all the old ladies.
“Praise the Lord,” say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, “Amen.”
And everyone worships the Lord together.

See, “doulos” is slave and Matthew decided to use “pais“, I think, just because someone, somewhere, is annoyed that Matthew used to be a Tax Collector. Someone, somewhere, is annoyed that everyone isn’t exactly like them. There’s enough of a tinge of GASP around “pais” to make people sit up and go, “Oh, right: the God that loves us.”

Jesus was not exactly reputable. Kings will fall silent in his presence, this son of a prostitute, adultery, gentiles, and a Virgin. See? God can work it out. He really can. The Lineage of David may be a mess, but God can work it out. It’s not an unplanned pregnancy, in fact, it’s very planned. Very planned, indeed.

Jesus is, by all standards today, a bit of a hot mess: too liberal for the conservatives, with his willingness to eat with sinners and to party with tax collectors; and too conservative for the liberals (because, “go and sin no more” is too much condemnation for anyone today). He’s born in poverty, and really doesn’t hang out with the right sort of people. He doesn’t care what your opinions are – he wants you to do things, to give away all you have, to love people. If we want it to be “normal” we’re going to miss out on the things God has for us.

We can be like Joseph, but instead of hiding Mary “to protect ‘her’ from scandal” (ie, to protect Joseph from scandal) we’re trying to protect us from scandal by hiding the real Jesus.

Matthew keeps his reading community on the edge of their seats and kings will shut their mouths – because this entirely unsuitable being, fathered by smelly sheepherders and unsavory women – is God. So, there’s hope for us – you and I – who mostly fall between Prostitutes and Kings on the social spectrum. There’s hope.

“Gasp,” say all the old ladies.
“Praise the Lord,” say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, “Amen.”
And everyone worships the Lord together.

How unbelievably awesome is that? How glorious is our God that lifts up even the bourgeoisie among sinners by going even lower than us to raise us all together.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.