Rosalie Sugrue writes amazing re-tellings of scripture in dramatized words that speak right to the heart of congregations. Her “Women around the Manger” is a favorite of my congregation. She has fantastic resources of all kinds. My favorite is Ten Short Plays.
What Rosalie is sharing today is a dialogue between Matthew and Luke that describes the differences between their two presentations of the Nativity. For three readers — two who need a slight dramatic flair — these distinctions will come alive for your congregation (in ways that no boring sermon could ever do it! … just saying). A brief piece before scripture on the fourth Sunday of Advent, a possibility to shape worship the Sunday after Christmas … leading into a discussion of just how each of them would present the nativity in a contemporary setting!(That’s what we are doing) or simply a program idea for a small group / coial gathering.
Leader: The most memorable teachings are conveyed by stories. Jesus never wrote a faith creed, a thesis, or a legal document defining his theology. Jesus told stories. We may not be able to recite a creed, or quote long passages of Scripture but we all know the stories of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. We believe these principles are the essence of Christianity. Could it be, that inspired by the Jesus method, other teachers and writers spread the essence of Christianity by creating parables about Jesus?
Matthew: My name is Matthew. I am a Jew but I no longer live in my homeland. I belong to a Jewish community in Antioch. I am passionate about my Jewish heritage; I fear it is in danger of being lost in this distant place. But I am even more passionate about the new insights of Christianity. My mission is to show my community how Christianity has grown out of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew who taught a new way of being and of understanding God. Jesus is greater than Moses, greater than King David, Jesus is Lord and Jesus is King.
Luke: My name is Luke. I trained as a medical doctor. I studied under Greek Physicians. My desire was to help ill people gain health. Alas this is a difficult task, there is so much we do not know about how the body works and what aids healing. But I noticed that key to coping with illness is attitude of mind. Peace of mind and a positive disposition can bring health, even without curing the illness. I was so fortunate to encounter and learn from the apostle Paul. Now I want to put my Greek education to another purpose. I intend to write a book, a Good News account of Jesus.
Matthew: I have access to the Q documents and the writings of Mark. I will draw on those for the life and teaching of Jesus but I must also connect to the old stories. First, I must set the scene in a way that enables my readership to understand just how amazing Jesus is.
Luke: I have access to the Q documents and the writings of Mark. I will draw on those for the life and teaching of Jesus. My work will be a pastoral Gospel that speaks of love and healing. First, I must set the scene in a way that enables my readership to understand just how amazing Jesus is.
Matthew: My telling of the story must proclaim the fulfilment of Scripture. Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Son of God. The telling of this story must appeal to Jewish men.
Luke: My telling of the story must be an inclusive account, a universal message of Good News that offers salvation to all. The telling of this story must also appeal to women.
Matthew: I’ve prayed about this and given it serious thought. I have wrestled with who is Jesus for me? For me he is my leader, Lord and King. His law supersedes the law of Moses. My Gospel will present Jesus as the new Moses. I will also draw on Joseph who saved his people in a foreign land. I will have my Joseph go to Egypt and return from that place. The Joseph of the Scriptures was carried from Egypt bound in mummifying cloths. The infant of my Joseph will be carried and bound in swaddling cloths.
Luke: I’ve prayed about this and given it serious thought. I have wrestled with who is Jesus for me? For me he is teacher, healer and a prophet who cares for all. He is a prophet even greater than Elijah. I will present Jesus as the new Elijah. When Jesus’ work is done he will be taken up into Heaven. Elijah had encounters with women. My Gospel will include stories of women, and I will try to tell some stories from a women’s perspective.
Matthew: The earthly father of Jesus is named Joseph; that is a good start. His father will be Jacob. The Joseph of the ancient scripture was a dreamer. Joseph will have dreams. He will talk with angels who will tell him how he should behave. However, our Jewish history begins with our Father Abraham. Our history and our religion are intertwined and inseparable. This must be a sacred story that uses sacred imagery. And I know just how to begin. I will use the holy numbers of 3 and 7. I will list the generations from Abraham to Jesus in a way that Jews can understand. Seven is a very holy number, twice seven will be seen as double holy. There will be 14 generations from Abraham to David, our greatest King; then 14 generations to the lowest point in our history, our deportation to Babylon; then a final 14 to the birth of Jesus our Messiah and Son of God.
Luke: All great men deserve an important birth. I will begin with birth stories – birth is a female thing; I will tell stories of women. The birth of Jesus will be a dramatic opening. I will build to a climax by first relating the story of his cousin who became John the Baptist, the one who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. I will include a genealogy that stretches back from the father of Jesus to Adam, the father of the human race. This way everyone can claim a connection to the lineage of Jesus.
Matthew: My story will emphasise the Kingship of Jesus, his wisdom and greatness. I must include earthly Kings and wise men in my telling.
Luke: My story will show how Jesus relates to all society including the most marginalised. I must include lowly sheep herders in my telling.
Matthew: I will present Joseph as an honourable man, a righteous man who, like his namesake, behaves in an exemplary manner when confronted with a scandalous situation. And I will show how Scriptures are fulfilled, “Look a young woman shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.
Luke: Mary, the girl God chose to nurture and birth the Messiah must learn of this by talking with a messenger of God. Mary will speak with an angel. The angel will direct her to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth. It will be there that Mary understands the pregnancy. Mary is a girl but Elizabeth is wise and respected woman. She will give Mary guidance and point her to the Scriptures. The two of them will reflect on holy women who unexpectedly gave birth to important men. The holiest prophet of ancient times was Samuel. Mary shall learn and shape the words of his mother, Hannah, into a new song of praise.
Leader: We cannot know the facts of the birth of Jesus. Ancient scribes did not view facts as we view facts. What we can be sure of is, people of that time were not interested in hearing of ordinary births. Like now, it is only after a person becomes famous that we want to know more about their background, and researchers go looking for origins.
Only Luke and Matthew offer birth accounts. Both tell wonderful stories, stories that present different messages for different people. They call us to ponder, who is Jesus for me?
Their nativity stories are the best loved stories of all time. They have inspired countless legends and nativity plays and they continue to inspire fresh tellings and new presentations.
The messages given by Matthew and Luke give are as wonder-filled now as they were then. We can cherish these things in our hearts knowing God is with us.
Rosalie Sugrue 2014
And for a thriller The League of Lilith!