Read Matthew 1
Focus on verse 18-19
Many years ago, when I was a child, there was young gal in our community who became pregnant. This would normally be a happy occasion in most families, but in this case the girl was very young and not yet married, which was problematic at the time. I remember the way adults would lower their voices and glance furtively around whenever this topic would be raised in conversation. It became very awkward for the girl and her family. In those days this sort of thing was considered somewhat scandalous.
In today’s reading we begin the first book of the New Testament, and it begins with the heritage and birth of Jesus Christ. As Matthew describes the events leading up to Jesus birth it becomes apparent that the circumstances surrounding the conception and birth of Jesus were quite likely perceived and scandalous in that culture as well.
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. (v. 18-19)
Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. Both of these families were well respected in the community where they lived…at least until this happened. One can imagine that when Mary attempted to explain to Joseph that she had had a vision in which and angel had appeared and told her that God was going to miraculously make her pregnant, that it did not initially go over very well with Joseph or his family. It’s quite likely that Mary’s family may have been skeptical as well. Yet this is the way God ordained the birth of Jesus to come about…not because God favors scandal and rumors, but because God is in the business of redemption not religion. If God was in the business of religion, he might have had Jesus born into the family of the High priest, or at least a member of the Sanhedrin. Could it be that God chose to start things off this way specifically because he knew this would be a stumbling block to people who were highly religious?
As I have observed and experienced walking with and serving God over the years, it would seem that He often chooses to use situations that seem scandalous to humble those of us who have become self-righteous. As we continue through the gospels in the days and weeks ahead, we will see that Jesus consistently uses this approach. It is not that Jesus does scandalous things…though the things he did sometimes appeared scandalous to the religious elites who were observing. Jesus just used every opportunity to break down religious barriers that the Pharisees and Scribes of his day had created that we’re keeping people from experiencing the love of God.
Perhaps a good question for those of us who have many years of experience within the church might ask ourselves is – “Are there barriers that I have created, and which I protect, which stand in the way of people experiencing the love of God?”
Tearing them down may appear scandalous to our more “religious” friends, but if this makes it possible for more people to experience God’s love perhaps it would be worth the risk?