For this week in our study of Matthew’s infancy narrative, we will be reading about Jesus’ conception and birth as recorded in Matthew 1:18-25.
When we study the Scriptures in our small group, we apply various critical methods to the text. We can read the text within its historical context (what is going on in first-century Roman Palestine), its philology (what does the word “just” mean in describing Joseph), or simply exegetically (what information is Matthew trying to convey to us). In many ways, we are trying to read the Biblical text similar to how we read other writings intended to convey information, such as newspapers or schoolbooks.
An alternative means of engaging the Scriptures is spiritually. When we read the Bible spiritually, we are not reading primarily for information or even theology. Rather we are reading to make the text a living text whereby we encounter the living God. St. Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) taught a spiritual practice called gospel contemplation. His idea was for the reader to place himself into a story from a Gospel.
Ignatius gives us six steps to follow: (1) pick a passage, (2) focus your heart and mind on Jesus, (3) read the passage twice, (4) sit quietly and picture the scene, particularly as an active participant in the scene (5) allow the scene to come to life, and (6) conclude with a prayer. Examples of gospel contemplation from Creighton University (a Jesuit school) are here.
The reading for tonight lends itself very well to this type of spiritual reading. Matthew gives us few details which thereby allows our imagination to run. As you read the passage today, put yourself in Joseph’s place. What it is like to be betrothed (engaged)? What feelings are you experiencing? What preparations are you making for the marriage? And then, how do you find out about Mary’s condition? What is going through your mind? Matthew tells us that Joseph “resolved” to quietly divorce Mary, what other options would you be contemplating?
Walk through the story with these types of questions being asked in the first person. Make Joseph’s story, your story, so that you can share in the same encounter with the mystery of God that Joseph did. Share in his experiences, his thoughts, and his revelation. Scripture is not history, it’s the present. Be there with Jesus at his birth.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is caldo gallego. Discussion about 7:15. Please let us know if you plan to join us.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way . . .Matthew 1:18