Framed by Mary’s Heart

Luke 2 has at least two potential structures that its stories are organized around, and neither are mutually exclusive. Both are supported and framed by the mentions of hearts, most notably Mary’s.

First, we have a conventional chiasm:

A - Mary treasures and ponders things in her heart (2:19)
  B - In the temple - Simeon (2:20-33)
    C - Rising and Falling - thoughts of hearts revealed (2:35)
  B'- In the temple - Jesus (2:41-50)
A'- Mary treasures things in her heart (2:51)

The center is about the rising and falling of many in Israel, and of a sword that will pierce Mary’s soul. The secret thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.

All of this happens during Jesus’ ministry, and it is just exactly when the pondering inside of Mary’s heart would come to the forefront, the whole reason Mary is keeping these treasured moments. When what Mary stores up is revealed, so are the hearts of many others. See also Romans 2:16.

The second structure is a set of three parallel sequences:

A - Trip to the manger (2:16)
  B - Message given to Jesus' parents about the child (2:17-18)
    C - Mary's heart (2:19)

A - Trip to the temple (2:22-27)
  B - Message given to Jesus' parents about the child (2:28-33)
    C - Thoughts of hearts revealed (2:34-35)

A - Trip to the temple (2:41-47)
  B - Message given by Jesus' to his own parents (2:48-50)
    C - Mary's heart (2:51)

Some interesting comparisons come up. The manger (and the child) is in place of the temple. Jesus will be the one who makes clean and forgives sins, and so will end up being the true temple, so this makes perfect sense.  We should be expecting it.

And then Jesus himself is in place of the messengers. Others have been speaking about him, but now he speaks for himself. The Word made flesh is not only the consummation of the Law (the temple being the prime symbol), but also the Prophets. God now speaks through his Son (Heb 1:1-2), and we should listen (Luke 9:35).

The replacement hinted at begins to take place in the very next chapter, with John the Baptist’s imprisonment and Jesus’ anointing.

There might also be structure in the progression of reactions to the various messages from heaven. People wonder about the message (2:18). Joseph and Mary are amazed about the message (2:33). Finally, Joseph and Mary are confused about the message (2:50).

This tends to follow the same trend as Jesus’ ministry. People are amazed…but then also get very confused.

The Greatest Authority Given to Men

Matthew cites a profound reason as to why the crowds glorified God in Matthew 9:8. After Jesus tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven, he proves it by healing the man. The text then says in verse 8:

But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

The overarching story of the Bible has many themes, structures, and beats, and one of them about God gradually entrusting man with more and more authority and responsibility. Man is initially given dominion over the whole earth and the things therein. After the flood, man gets authority to judge capital crimes, representing authority over his fellow man (Gen. 9:5-7). With post-Exodus Israel, we see men given the responsibility to guard and serve God’s throne-room sanctuary. With Solomon, we see a man given the ability to discern between good and evil, granting as a gift what Adam had prematurely seized in the garden (1 Kings 3:9).

With Jesus, we see this theme reach its climax. It is a big deal that a man has the authority to forgive sins. The Son of Man, our brother, has been invested with this authority. And it is also the climax of this particular section of Matthew. The end of chapter 7 until 9:8 is all about authority.

The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one having authority. (7:29)

The centurion says that he too is a man under authority, comparing himself to Jesus, and that servants and soldiers under him “go” and “come” according to his command. (8:5-9)

Then we get the scene that seems like the climax, the height of Jesus’ authority, when he calms the storm. The disciples marvel at “what kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (8:27) What could be greater than this? Our jaws drop along with the disciples.

But that is not the end nor the pinnacle of this section, as we soon learn. The only place where people glorify God is after Jesus says he has the authority to forgive sins. That is when he is at his most powerful. Cleaning the slate, reconciling people to a holy, righteous God.

And that power is invested in a man.

Yet another thing to add to the wonder of the Incarnation.

To Compose a Name – Adam and Eve

In Genesis 2, Adam names the animals. To name something is to claim authority over it, and earlier (Gen. 1:28) God placed everything that moves on the earth under the rule of those made in His image.

But Adam doesn’t bother to name his wife…until after the Fall. The man composes a poem, but doesn’t take time to compose a name.

After God lays down his curse, part of which is that the man will rule over the woman (Gen. 3:16), only then does Adam name Eve. A lot of things changed as a result of the Fall. Could one of them have been the nature of the man’s authority over his wife? Adam now claims his right to rule his wife by naming her, as he did the animals.

Paul makes it clear that the created order itself has some authority, and it included some form of hierarchy. Man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7). Adam was created first, and then Eve (1 Tim. 2:13).

Likewise, the whole point of marriage, from the very beginning, was to image Christ and His Church, a clear relationship of ruler and subject. Pre-fall, the authority was in place, but the placement of the naming of Eve hints that something truly precious was lost between the sexes, a corrupting of the authority that lowered the woman closer to the status of a animal, less of the ideal helper than intended, and as a result both man and woman are diminished.

The Exile to End All Other Exiles

Matthew 1:17, after the end of the genealogy, tells us the organization of the preceding text.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.

But there are some other interesting textual links. Matthew 1:2 mentions Jacob “the father of Judah and his brothers.” The next time we see a similar phrase, it is in verse 11, where it says “Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers…” The latter specifically says that it was the “time of the deportation to Babylon.” Exile.

And what also happened to Judah and his brothers? They went down to Egypt. It was to escape a famine, but it was still a movement away from the promised land. Exile.

The genealogy concludes with another Jacob, “the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born…” Jesus himself will go into a form of exile. To Egypt first, but then to the grave. But his exile will be the one to end all other exiles.

The ending of the first fourteen generations is also linked thematically, of course, because David undergoes his own exile before he is crowned king. It’s a cycle that repeats…until it doesn’t.




When Kings Go Out – When Messengers Sally Forth

In 2 Samuel 11:1, the setup for David’s sin with Bathsheba and subsequent cover-up has an intriguing ambiguity in the manuscripts we have, as pointed out by Alter and Polzin. Many have the word for “kings,” which seems to make the most sense. It is kings that go out, or sally forth, to battle. This is a time when David should have been out in the field with his army, and instead he is lounging at home, looking at rooftops. Yet the received text has the word for “messengers” instead, which is never used in conjunction with the verb “to go out” or “to go forth.”

So which word is it? Kings or messengers? One suspects that this “scribal contradiction” is actually a literary device used by the divine Author Himself. The ambiguity between the two words seems deliberate.

Throughout the next two chapters, it literally is the time when messengers go out. David sends messengers, Joab sends messengers, and Uriah becomes the messenger of his own death warrant. The whole story takes place through the mediation of messengers.

And then, for the climax of the episode, God sends His own messenger, who declares that the sword will not swerve from David’s house.

It is a time for messengers to go out, indeed.