Watershed Formation Studies

Chapter 9 - Christ

In chapter 8, we had our last fireside with the people in Babylon, still in exile and still longing for a new exodus. Though Jerusalem and even the Temple had been destroyed through Israel’s conceit and failure to keep the covenant, the people still dared to hope the Story was not over.

In chapter 9, after an interlude of about 200 years, Gladding brings us into the gathering of another community — a house church hosted by a woman who, as a young girl, had witnessed Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. She begins to tell the Story that formed her ecclesia (congregation) to her guest, a local merchant, as others listen and sometimes contribute.

As the woman tells the next chapter of the Story, the merchant hears the stories of Jesus, son of David and Abraham. Beginning with his strange lineage (which included women of ill repute and worse, not children of Abraham), we learn of Jesus, the new Moses who seems to be bringing a new exodus.

Strange new things are happening, difficult to understand — God now seems to be three instead of One, and He is faithful to the covenant, even in temptation, where Israel was not. Jesus embodied God’s love and fidelity.

Like God dwelling with the twelve tribes of Israel in the temple, Jesus has twelve disciples who follow him and learn from him. In word and deed, they began to bless all people, not just Israel. Jesus was God made flesh, opening the way to a new covenant.

(artwork by: http://www.mynheer-art.co.uk/gallery/paintings.html)

Questions for Discussion

1) Why are genealogies in the bible?
2) How would a devout Jew hear this story?
3) Does harmonizing the gospel stories reveal or conceal?
4) Who do you think Jesus is?
5) Did Jesus think he was God?


What purpose do the genealogies play in the story of Christ? Why were the four women important ?

Paul Patterson: While the genealogies are not the most evocative starting point for modern readers, they did serve a very important function for Jesus’ contemporaries. Genealogies were often used as an opening for stories throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e., Noah, Abraham, etc. Hellenistic biographies also opened with accounts of a hero’s ancestors. The meaning of Matthew’s genealogy is summed up well by Charles Talbert, “Jesus brings to realization all that was implicit in the events, persons, and declarations of Israel’s history.”

The primary focus is on Jesus being a vital, culminative part of the history of his people, not necessarily that he was genetically connected to the individuals mentioned. It is quite an anomaly that Matthew traces his genealogy from Joseph since the gospel narrative doesn’t identify Joseph as Jesus’ biological father.

Not only does Jesus find his spiritual lineage among Jews but alluding to him as a Son of Abraham connects him with his dual heritage both Gentile and Jew. While Abraham was not ethnically Jewish he nonetheless was the father of the Jews. Paul will later refer to this dual citizenship.

Connecting Jesus to David, Matthew links him to the messianic expectation and especially the actions associated with it like: feeding sheep, strengthening the weak, healing the sick, binding the cripple, bringing back the straying. (See Ezekiel 34)

I will appoint for them a single shepherd, and he will feed them. My servant David will feed them. He will be their shepherd. I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be their prince. I, the LORD, have spoken. I will make a covenant of peace for them, and I will banish the wild animals from the land. Then they will safely live in the desert and sleep in the forest. I will give them and those around my hill a blessing by sending the rain in its season. They will be rains of blessing. The trees in the field will bear fruit, and the earth will yield its harvest. They will be safe on their fertile land, and they will know that I am the LORD when I break the bars of their yoke and deliver them from those who enslaved them
(Ezekiel 34:23–27 CEB)

Matthew though includes many instances of set backs as he moves the lineage forward. The history is by no means a progressive evolution of the kingdom: apostasy, tyranny, and in the four women mentioned, sexual ambiguity are all part of the story.

The four women are Gentiles: Caananites, Moabites, Hittites. Tamar tricked her father-in-law into having sex with her; Rahab was a prostitute; Ruth seduced her kinsman Boaz; Bathsheba committed adultery. Matthew brings this to a culmination by mentioning strange origins through a young pregnant girl called Mary. He is at the least pointing out that social respectability is definitely not the primary requisite in God’s lineage.

back to questions

Whose Voice

How would you answer the merchant's question : "whose voice is it that claims Jesus as a son?" How do you think a Jew of that time, devoutly praying the Shema each day, would come to tell this story? (The Shema is an affirmation of Judaism and a declaration of faith in one God, prayed in the morning and evening each day. It is taken from Deuteronomy 6:4 - "Hear O hear Israel, the LORD your God is one.")

Paul Patterson: The affirmation of the sonship of Jesus in all the gospel narratives comes from God as Father. How this became part of the story is inscrutable. What Matthew exactly meant is also hard to envision. I don’t think he was thinking in trinitarian terms that were later used by the church but rather had in mind that Jesus was the faithful Israelite who like King David could be called “son”.

Jesus was obedient and intimately linked with God’s intentions for Israel and for the world as such. I believe Matthew considered him to be the Messiah. Not as traditional Judaism expected, in either method or person.

As such however this places him in a unique place that has stirred theological reflection for centuries. Early Christians, Matthew included were monotheists, with a difference, but monotheists nonetheless. They perceived that Jesus was the human incarnation of God’s intention and revelation for human beings. The human face of God is how I would put it.

back to questions


Gladding includes portions of all four gospels in his portrayal of Jesus. What do you think he is trying to accomplish with this harmonization? What is gained and what is lost by this process?

Paul Patterson: Gladding is merely trying to tell the story ‘canonically,' that is, across the entire Scripture as recognized by those who follow Christ. There is a positive aspect to this because one portrait builds upon another expanding and making the story expansive and inclusive of all the perspectives of the early witnesses. This approach is particularly needed in the case of fresh readers. Nothing wrong with that approach, although it does have limitations as well.

Seeing each testimony of the story of Jesus in every gospel and epistle, as stand alone versions, digs each version deeper. The differences and similarities between the accounts make for a more informed conversation and the realization that plurality of perspective was honored in the early church. Each account speaks to the specific needs of the community to which it was written and therefore reveals significant insight into the history of early christianity. There is no intrinsic need to harmonize the accounts. It is much better to let them stand as witnesses. If they all agreed completely, one could only surmise that they were not authentic expressions of different faith communities.

back to questions

Bev Patterson: In a sense Gladding is creating another gospel, borrowing and dovetailing to create another version of our Story of redemption that is constantly open to re-translation given the variety of contexts and communities that long to hear the good news. Scholars say this happened a lot, especially during that time. Whether it is intentional or not, Gladding is illustrating this effectively by introducing two new characters. We see the story through new eyes but it still has the main essentials, and so while new, it still carries the familiar themes and messages of hope and good news.

With this new version, “The Gospel of Gladding," we hear the message from a woman (one of the many signs of the upside down kingdom) who has allowed her Jewish faith to welcome the stranger, the strange stranger of Jesus who was so hard to understand from the old perspective. And in doing so, her faithful discipleship has been transformed from a tribal in-house version of religious observance to an open-hearted hospitality that implies risk and trust. She follows the gospel message by welcoming many strangers and providing a meeting place for all who yearn to remember their beloved Messiah.

Their gatherings take on the feel of many groups that have continued on through the centuries — retelling the story through study and worship and fellowship; eating together & sharing a life together which is indeed an attempt to become like Jesus who modeled that kind of gathering throughout his short life with his disciples and those he met along the way.

Gladding’s version is almost a mix between Gospel and perhaps a lost chapter of “The Book of Acts” where we learned of the spreading of the ecclesia and the burning desire to keep following and know more of this “Stranger who saved the world through his suffering love”.

back to questions

Who Is Jesus?

A friend at work has been going through a tough time. He's started reading the bible again. Knowing that you read the bible, your friend approaches you. After talking some time of the different views of Jesus in the gospels, your friend asks you bluntly : "Who do you think Jesus is?" How do you respond?

Paul Patterson: What is difficult is: ‘How? And in what way?’ Did Jesus manifest or reveal the precise image of God for humanity? Undoubtedly Matthew believed that he did, as did Paul at a very early stage in the life of the Church. The human incarnation of God in Jesus is in my mind difficult to directly, unequivocally link with the Creator of the universe, at least in a literal manner. Symbolically, metaphorically Jesus is God with us and for us.

The limits of my intellect and my spirituality only allow me to view Jesus as the conduit to God’s intentions and attitudes and designs for humanity. The philosophical questions remain but I trust Jesus’ revelation and have faith that following his example and listening to his words will be enough.

If I want to know God, I rely on Jesus’ revelation to show me who God is. Without Christ, I don’t have any analogy or idea of what the divine is, what God wants of me or his essential character. I say this as one leaning into faith and finding it a sufficient foundation on which to root my life.

To my friend I can only recommend that they connect with the teachings of Jesus as found in the New Testament; the testimony of those who followed him in the early community; as well as the current witness of Jesus followers who seek to imitate obey and trust him today. The palpable presence of Christ Risen can be found as it indwells those who believe and follow him in community, as individuals. The invitation is in essence, “Come and see.” Attend your ‘lived’ experience with him.

back to questions

Bev Patterson: I have come to the conclusion that Jesus is a mystery. Mystery in the sense that anyone who is a beloved friend is a mystery. My desire for security and control has often led to a reduction of Jesus to some sort of role/title: “radical teacher," “suffering servant," “Son of God," etc. These are the names our Christian tradition have given him and they are true names but to just stick with the names is to reduce Jesus to an icon.

I like what Sharon Putts said in a recent podcast — “Context is King” — and maybe that relates to me too. How is Jesus incarnated in my particular context, individual and communally? Lately, I have rediscovered or maybe even discovered, in a way that is new, that Jesus is friend in the true sense of the word: guiding, nudging, accepting, confronting but still mysteriously. I can’t start the day saying Jesus will do this because I have finally figured him out. But maybe I can start the day telling him … I’m worried and sad or I wonder about this, or I don’t have a clue what is happening or I feel joy and a sense of accompaniment – Thank you for that, thank you for knowing exactly how I feel or what I’m going through.

Some days, I meet Jesus in an email that gets me on the right track. Sometimes I meet him swimming my laps. Most often, I meet him among my friends in that very particular/unique way we have of entering scripture with both joy and seriousness, whether it’s on a Saturday morning, a Wednesday study night or on those Monday night meetings where we feel the presence of this Friend palpably. A lot of times I simply meet him in the deep happiness that comes from living a creational existence.

And sometimes I don’t want him in my life and I don’t feel like “talking or listening” to him because I would rather be doing my own thing — like a loyal and true friend he gives me freedom to be the wayward idiot I am. But like the best Friend possible he lets me suffer the absence in the hopes that we will come together again; not just for comfort or a weird kind of security but because he is the Friend that will bring me closer to the father we both share.

This friendship is backed up by centuries of writings and sacred text that confirm it’s not just me being crazy, talking to myself. This Jesus has many friends from different parts of the world and on different paths. I can verify my felt experience with others who have also encountered the loving mystery of Jesus. The promise that we are accompanied by the spirit that is located in the imagination of God assures me that this Friendship is trustable, steady as a rock and eternal.

back to questions


Did Jesus think he was God?

Paul Patterson: I guess the best way to answer that is to ask, “Whose Jesus?” The Jesus a historian would view likely did not believe he was God. He likely saw himself as a Prophet, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Messiah (with a difference), and Torah-obedient Son of God.

The early church had no other explanation for him other than that he was the Son of God, Messiah and the very image and likeness of God.

back to questions

blog comments powered by Disqus