Barbara Green | Jan 22 2008 - 11:01am | 0 comments
This Sunday’s first reading is woven explicitly into the Gospel: a "writer’s move" recently named intertextuality. The practice is ancient, though often the intertexts are less clear and more difficult to spot. Today we have Isaiah 9:1-2 invited by Matthew into the Gospel (at the place now called 4:13-16). The Isaiah quote is thus challenged to unpack itself and find a second home in the host text. And we, hearing or reading it, invite the Isaiah quote to explain something about the Matthew passage that we might have missed had the visiting words not been placed there. What might that something be? The point is not to find any one correct answer but to tease out various possibilities and see what they offer as the two contexts intersect and in fact interact with our contemporary situations. It’s often difficult to pin down original Isaian contexts, given the tendency of the material to be re-edited over generations; but we can safely assume that the experience alluded to is the depredations suffered when groups of Gentiles (e.g., Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans) spill into the northern territory of Israel. That painful memory is first invoked and then reversed in the prophet. When the prophet’s old words turn up in the gospel, they bring along their old meaning but Matthew adds the idea that what was once sorrowful and then joyful can also work well, be productive. That is, Matthew’s young church was likely dealing with the question of how Gentiles are to become part of those committed to Jesus. The earlier text suggests it may be difficult and joyful by turns, and then Matthew seems to suggest that Gentiles can even be a good thing, which may not be the experience his church was having. And we are invited, plausibly and challengingly, to think about our joys and fears, hopes and sorrows as "outsiders" join communities where we felt comfortable without them. Barbara Green, O.P.