On the Infancy Narratives of Luke and Matthew
'The Messiah? That's Jesus' - so Jon Sobrino summarizes the Christology of the New Testament. The infancy narratives have the same kind of backward-to-us logic: the righteous one promised from David that will lead our people into freedom? That's Jesus, says Matthew. The powerful one prophesied from old that will save the whole world by bringing good news to the least of these? That’s Jesus, not Caesar, says Luke. We know the scope of the saviors because of the scope of genealogies: back to Abraham the father of a nation for Matthew, back to Adam the father of all mankind for Luke.
Three sets of fourteen generations in Matthew establishes a secession of eras divided by events key to Israel’s identity and deliverance (monarchy and return from exile). Matthew now implies another. In Luke, four instances of women in scandal provide three gentiles and an adulteress serving “as instruments of the Holy Spirit...to overcome obstacles.” From Mary in Luke, where Joseph is silent, we get the Magnificat: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent away the lowly.” From Joseph in Matthew, where Mary is silent, we get the angelic annunciation via dream: “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
In Matthew we get the narrow Moses-like escape from the slaughter of the innocents; in Luke we get the appearance of a host of angels to a few good shepherds. In both, it presumably matters who is going to be led. For Matthew, Israel, who may or may not follow; for Luke, the shepherds themselves are led, and could be just about anybody – which is, presumably, something of the point. In Matthew, the wise of other nations come and give obeisance to the righteous one born in Israel; in Luke, an actual Temple priest in the heart of Israel is stricken dumb as a consequence of his disbelief of the message of one who “will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God” (emphasis mine).