Our congregation is doing a series this Advent using the Gospel frontispieces from the St. John's Bible. Yesterday the focus was on Matthew' s gospel. I'm excited about this series because I'm increasingly convinced that the way through the postmodern dilemma in the future is a focus on beauty, not truth -- or at least not "Truth" in the rational, hyperhistorical sense. There are many folk in my congregation -- mostly Baby Boomers and older -- who are taken with the work of the Jesus Seminar and writers like Bishop John Shelby Spong. I understand their feelings that the wool was pulled over their eyes in their early years, when they were encouraged to think of every word of the Bible as historical truth, but I'm not sure the path Spong shows them is all that helpful. The hermeneutic of suspicion that results often ends in a dead end of unimaginative conversation that leaves no room for mystery. In fact, the critique often seems to be a mirror image of fundamentalism -- all work and no play, no room for a living God to break in and surprise us.
The illumination of Matthew's first chapter in the St. John's Bible, on the other hand, is riddled (God, I love that word!) with mystery. Instead of a dull list of begats it becomes a wondrous diagram -- an illumination, indeed --of God breaking in all over the place, in a family tree shaped like a menorah, in Hagar's place in the family tree, a mandala at the center and faint gold lines of a DNA double helix. And over it all the irony that this is Joseph's genealogy, who according to tradition has only adoptive status as Jesus' father anyway.
The print makes me stare in wonder, which is the best possible response to a text like this. Is the text "true?" Insofar that it is beautiful, absolutely.