It feels like starting his gospel off with a family tree is a slow start for Matthew. I wrote for a living for many years, and we always tried to put something interesting in the first sentence, and maybe Matthews original audience thought he was a rock star, but to me it seems like a thing to skip to get to the good stuff.
Matthew points out that the genealogy is in three sections - 14 generations of patriarchs, 14 of good times (up and down, but Israel is established and functioning as a nation, at least) and then 14 generations of exile. Jesus is coming into the exile phase, into a nation that doesn't have a home, that feels rootless and maybe pretty sad. He is part of a people who are outsiders in their own homes.
So Matthew's point (I'm getting help here from NT Wright) is at least partly that Jesus is a promise of leading people out of exile. Maybe He can help them find a home, and help them feel less sad. Maybe He can help them feel less like outsiders.
I'm going to be honest off the bat and say that after many years of following Jesus it very much feels like following Him makes me an outsider -- it does not feel like an end to exile, but like entering further into it. The world around me does not feel super welcoming to Christians, sometimes for good reasons (residential schools, among other poor treatment of minorities) and I get stressed about that. I kind of wish I could stop following Jesus, at least partially, to fit in better.
Even as I write this I have a sense of the set-up. I'm guessing that Matthew wants us to feel something like this. I know enough Bible history to know that original, Jewish readers would have had certain expectations of the Messiah-who-would-end-exile. They wanted Him to be a political leader who would give them their country back. I want Him to be the guy who gives me an awesome life. In her footnotes, Ruden mentions that the name "Jesus" is rooted in the Hebrew for "rescue,"so our expectations are not totally out of left field. Matthew isn't an idiot, so he knows what we're all expecting. I've read ahead, I know we're not gonna get what we want. I'm assuming that part of what Matthew is up to is to make the case that we should follow Jesus even thought He doesn't meet our expectations. I'm looking forward to that encouragement.
What about you? Thoughts on chapter 1? What are your expectations as you try to read Matthew with new eyes? Share your thoughts in the comments.