April 18, 2020 – Saturday in the Octave of Easter
Once more, Bro. Sam has volunteered his services as contributor of the week! Please remember to get in touch with me if you are likewise willing to write an occasional spot. Let's see what Sam has to say down below. -- Bro. Brian Poulin
It’s Bro. Sam again. I don’t know when you’re reading this, but I’m writing it four days into the Coronavirus isolation. I’m finding myself with just a skosh of extra time on my hands. Back in college I studied ancient Greek (because I’m a winner), so one thing I like to do when I have some time on my hands is to read the New Testament in the original language. I decided to start translating the first chapter of Matthew, and, well, I went a little overboard and translated the whole chapter, did a line by line commentary, and wrote a reflection on it from a Marist perspective. I’m going to share it with you, so that Bro. Brian can have another week off from blogging. Take this for what it’s worth, and enjoy.
A Marist Reflection on Matthew 1
Marists have a special love for Christmas and the Nativity story. It was recommended to us by the founder, who told us to look for Jesus in the crib, the cross, and the altar.1 He meant that we should have a special love for Christ’s incarnation, his passion, and his eucharistic presence. This wasn’t something original to Champagnat–it was a common idea in nineteenth century French Catholic piety–but it was important to him, and so it’s important to us. The crib, the cross, and the altar–the Three First Places as they’re called–are an important part of Marist spirituality, and they’re included as such in our foundational documents.2
Whenever we think of the Nativity story, we’re usually thinking of the version recorded in the first two chapters of Luke. After all, it’s told from Mary’s perspective, and we Marists have a strong affinity for Mary. It’s sort of our deal. Matthew’s infancy narrative, told from Joseph’s point of view, we tend to neglect. That’s a shame, because there’s a symmetry in the two accounts, and they should be read side-by-side.
Luke’s account focuses on the role Mary has to play in salvation history. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and announces God’s plan to bring the Messiah into the world through her. Becoming the mother of Christ is a vocation she’s free to reject or accept, and in loving trust she accepts.3 This is called Mary’s Fiat, or her Yes, and for Marists it’s a symbol of an openness to the will of God that we should try to cultivate in ourselves.
What’s less often observed is the other Fiat, Joseph’s Fiat, that appears in Matthew. In the dream, the angel tells Joseph, “She will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”4 Mary will bear the child, but Joseph has to name him. That matters because in first century Jewish culture, for a man to name a child was to acknowledge him as his own. Once Joseph did that, Jesus was his son, regardless of his biological paternity.
This isn’t just a matter of God needing someone to step up to be a provider and father figure for Jesus. That’s certainly part of it, but there are other issues at play. Joseph needs to accept Jesus so that Jesus can be a descendent of David. Go back and read the genealogy in verses 1-17 (let it not be said that Matthew didn’t know how to write a snappy, fast-paced intro to his Gospel). Notice, Mary is not a descendent of David. Joseph is. God promised over and over again in the Psalms and the Prophets that the Messiah would come from David’s line,5 and that promise will only get kept if Joseph agrees to accept Mary’s son as his own. This is a vocation that Joseph is free to accept or reject, and he accepts with a Fiat that is silent but very real.
Even though the Marist Brothers never stop talking about Our Good Mother, our patron saint is actually not Mary, it’s Joseph.6 When you think about it, that’s pretty appropriate. Joseph was a man whose vocation was to care for, protect, nurture, and educate a child that wasn’t biologically his, but whom God had entrusted to him. What better model is there for what a Marist Brother is supposed to be?
1Avis, Leçons, Sentences Ch. 6.
2e.g. Water From the Rock 21-23, Rule of Life 24
52 Sam 7, Ps 89, Is 9:1-6, Jer 23:1-8, Ez 34, etc.
61986 Constitutions 76
This week’s ‘ear candy’ and ‘brain food’ both come from Sam as well. He describes Hula Ula as “a Polish EDM song my Polish Club kids like to blast in my classroom. I can’t promise that the lyrics are clean, because I have no idea what they mean.” The food for thought is simply Sam’s own translation and commentary to Matthew 1 that he mentioned during his introduction to this week’s reflection.
Ear Candy: “Hula Ula” by MARKUS P
Brain Food: “Matthew 1” as translated by Bro. Sam Amos, with commentary
Come back next Saturday for a new post!