Monday, January 3

Matthew the Camel

I was talking to a friend of mine over at Living Word Publishing and showed her an answer I did on Google Answers regarding numerology and the Bible. As a Researcher is it often very difficult to answer such questions, first off the person asking them, on the whole, has already in their minds the answer they are looking for, and is really only seeking verification of what they believe. In this case, this preconception wasn't true, and the patron was open to other interpretations. But on the whole, such answers not only need to enlighten, but resonate with their ideals in order to be heard.

One of the passages I used to illustrate my answer was from the first part of the book of Matthew. What I didn't explain, in the answer, was that this same passage is the one, which kept my faith intact, during a very dark time of doubt. Doubt in myself, and my chosen lifestyle.

I had been studying in seminary for about 5 years at the time, off and on. I've never really wanted to be a minister, but did want more than just a church going education in Biblical meaning. I've often thought I would have made a great monk. One of the drawbacks, which happens to many students however is that we get past the paint job and start seeing some of the rust underneath. History and facts start to taint our once naive visions and ideals. So it was with me.

I had learned a great deal, but instead of seeing the Bible (and many other religious writings), as I had as a child, I now saw them as stacks of flawed history and incomplete ideas. The scriptures are full of them. This is nothing new, but after so many years of running smack into one after the other, after the other; faith begins to wane under the pressure of reality. Or so it seems.

I was about to quit, and my personal world became one of anger and frustration. I felt some how cheated, that the deck had always been stacked and there was never really a chance for a flawed person like myself to find true meaning in the Word. I would forever, from this point, always find myself distracted by the flaws, and would never see the clover and flowers I once thought were there as a child. To put it simply, I felt I would never be able to read the Bible without feeling judgmental toward it or those who taught from it.

It was at this time that I read Matthew's linage of Jesus. I don't know how many times I have skipped over it. It really is an easy passage to just skim over and not give much thought to at all. Matthew is simply going through a set of begats, the type of lists, which are found in the old testament as well, and one of the most commonly complained about sections of the Bible, (this person begat that person and that person begat this person). But for some reason, that day, it caught my eye and my brain started to chew on it, like a mean dog on rawhide.

The first item that caught my already angry, judgmental mind, was that the linage is from Joseph's side of the family. "Well", I thought, "That's just great there Matthew. Did you forget that Jesus is not Joseph's son? Come on man, keep up here. After all, you are the only one that speaks of the virgin birth." And that was enough for me to pull out the intellectual knife and really have at Matthew's passage, and my knife found enough meat to cut very deep indeed. First off, Matthew appears to use 14 as a very significant number. Why? Who knows. Only Matthew seems to know why that was important, no other scripture or writing I've found to-date gives an authoritative reason why he thought 14 was so important.

In his second list of names, he skips a whole generation, going from Grandfather to grandson, rather than father to son, to get his 14 (and 3 kings in his list as well so the real list is 18 names), and in the last list, he only comes up with 13 names, not 14 as he says he does.

I was dumfounded. I set my Bible aside, after this binge of study and wondered how anyone, who had seriously studied the scriptures could possibly think of them as infallible. Sure, for the average church going person, who would probably never seriously read that passage, just as I had never paid much attention to it over the years, the questions I faced, would never come up. Who sits around counting names in a list? Well, I do, and I had the sneaking suspicion that there were several others like me, even in my own classes, perhaps even my teachers, and of course there were guys like Augustine (I'm pretty sure nothing of any significance got past him for long).

Even in Matthew's time, there were guys around like Paul and Peter. Guys with laser sharp intellects who would thrash a passage like that in a heart beat? Did they never read Matthew's book? Did he never question them? Paul especially, just reading his replies in Corinthians you know this is one man not to mess with in a serious debate.

This question, of Paul and Peter became something I wanted answered. Did they ever really have a chance to read Matthew's book? Or were they both someplace else? Where was Matthew when he finally decided to put his gospel on paper? Who was helping him? And in the course of my research, I ran smack into Matthew.

Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1) says: "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church." Irenaeus had read Papias Matthew was writing, or wrote at that time. So it is possible that neither of them read it before they died. Thomas was in Greece, and the others... well never mind all of them, it isn't really relevant to my purpose here, just know that my ranting continued for many days. Let's get back to Matthew himself.

He was the son of Alphaeus, and was a publican or tax-collector at Capernaum. On one occasion Jesus, coming up from the side of the lake, passed the custom-house where Matthew was seated, and said to him, "Follow me." Matthew arose and followed him, and became his disciple (Matthew 9:9).

He is called Levi in Luke (5:27). Although Mark calls him Matthew in his list of the apostles, when recounting the story how the publican is called to be a disciple, he calls him Levi (2:14).

What we know of Matthew himself was that he was Jewish, and Greek in his upbringing. His family was probably well off, or at least what we would think of as upper-middle class, and he was trained in numbers and accounting. We also know he was a disciple of Jesus.

While researching what could be found of him, and finding other discrepancies along the way, it dawned on me that perhaps my pursuit was not correct. I was looking for historic rights and wrongs in the writings of the Gospel, and seeing the fallacies of Matthew as signs that I could not hold much of it to be true. But really the phrase I should have been using was 'not factual' in all aspects.

Taking an even further step back, the question crossed my mind that "if this wasn't the Bible, if this wasn't the Gospel, if Matthew was simply this guy who wrote an account of his times and life, and of a man he saw as a great teacher of his time, would I be so hard on him?" and the answer is of course "No". I wouldn't be so hard on him because we all make mistakes in what we read, and remember and write down. We have only the information we have, and try to make the best decisions we can, based on that knowledge.

But the truth, the reality is, that Matthew was 'just a guy', a customs collector at a gate, who saw a great teacher coming into his city, and the teacher, said "follow me" and Matthew followed him. Jesus didn't look at his resume; ask if he read the Jewish scriptures in Greek or Aramaic, or Hebrew. He didn't ask who his father was. He simply saw a good soul, sitting at a gate, and said, "Follow me". He saw a camel that could pass through the eye of a needle.

Much latter in life, after hearing and witnessing many things, some amazing, some heart retching, this man wrote an account of his travels and his Lord. He wasn't perfect, and Jesus didn't pick him because he was, in fact Jesus had very little to say to Perfect people, or learned people. He traveled with those that were not perfect, who came from hard lives, who were not educated in many ways, but they were good souls, and that was all that mattered to Jesus.

After the Sermon on the Mount, the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in stories? Why didn't he just come out and say what he meant? His response was that his teachings were not for everyone. That his teachings were more than what words and facts could set down, and some would get it and some would not. This implies that Jesus himself knew that facts and intellect were in the way of the message. That what he said to the multitude would be quoted faithfully, and many people hearing it later would lift an eyebrow and say, "Why would you listen to madness like that? What does it mean?"

At this point I fell back in love with the scriptures. I love them with all of their fallacies, and discrepancies and possible flaws. I love them because I don't fully understand much of the meanings. I love them like I love my son, in a real sense. If my son did something horrible, and you could prove to me that he did this horrible thing, and show it all to me with charts and graphs and pictures, that the son I have in my heart is in reality a person that could commit such a horrible act, I would believe you eventually, but I would still love him. Nothing could take that away from me, nothing. No fact or flaw could ever remove my love of him. I am this way with the scriptures now. I continue to study and listen to those that enjoy pointing out the flaws, and I listen, and I nod my head, because many of these flaws I already know about, but despite all of this, my love is not for the parts, but for the whole.

Matthew was chosen because he was a good soul, that was all that was required to walk with the Son of God, and in doing so, has shown me that this is all that is required of me as well. I don't have to be right, I just have to be happy, and kind and allow the joy of life to flow through me to others. In that respect, there is no flaw or fallacy in Matthew, and I pray, every day that some day, those flaws will be removed from me as well.


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