Reading the opening of Matthew, I struggle to see how Jesus can be the true idol of so many white conservatives. His fundamental origins and life circumstances are enough to make many hot under the collar.
Jesus is the son of an unmarried mother (Matthew 1:18), whose image-conscious partner contemplates dismissing her to save their reputation (Matthew 1:19). Unmarried and single mothers have a history of being targeted and ostracised by the Church. In the 1950s and 60s in Briain, more than 500,000 children born to unmarried women were given up for adoption, usually to agencies run by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Salvation Army. Indeed, the Catholic Church in Ireland referred to these mothers as “fallen women” and placed in Magdalene Laundries, where women and girls had their names taken from them and were treated like slaves by the nuns running the institutions.
To add to his stigmatic beginnings, the Holy Family became refugees, fleeing persecution and the systematic killing of boys under the age of two (Matthew 2:13-16). It is safe to say that this family would not be welcome at the US border. After horrific journeys to the US, immigrants and refugees are kept in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, where the wailing of hungry children is heard all day and night. Jesus would most likely be separated from his parents so that they could be prosecuted by a state that should help them. And although attitudes towards refugees here in the UK are softening, only 52% of people feel that refugees deserve more support from the government.
A Palestinian refugee child born to an unmarried mother – this is the Christ that we worship. Yet this is also the Christ that is seldom, if ever, depicted in conservative Christian spaces. But this is the reality of our saviour.
And when this illegitimate refugee child is baptised, what is the reaction?
And a voice from Heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17 NRSVA)
God delights in God’s son. And God delights in each and every one of us, who God chooses to call God’s Beloved – regardless of our background, circumstances, or fundamental being.
To all those who feel unwelcome in society and the Church: single parents, immigrants, refugees, queer people, the broken, the lost, the addicts, the whatevers:
You are God’s Child, with whom God is well pleased.
Hold on tight to that; there are many who would do anything to deny you of that feeling.
God chose to manifest in a Palestinian refugee child born to poor unmarried parents – a child who would no doubt be rehected in so many spaces. But instead this is the Beloved Son, with whom God is well pleased.
May you, whoever you may be, whatever your circumstances or experiences, know the love that you are given as God’s beloved child.