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29 February

Marist Calendar - February

And she gave birth to a son, her first-born - 2


Giovanni Bigotto - 13/05/2011

May with Our Lady
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Verse 7: “And she gave birth to a son, her first-born”, requires an explanation. The Bible of Jerusalem has a very clear note: “In Biblical Greek, the term “first-born” does not necessarily imply younger brothers, but emphases the child’s dignity and rights.” It is above all a juridical term in Jewish society linked to the promises made by God, and it is also a term embodying a religious value, since the first-born belonged to God. The first-born was, as it were, especially consecrated. We discover this aspect with Esau and Jacob, Manasseh and Ephraim. Recalling the case of Esau, the Letter to the Hebrews, 12 : 16-17, says: «Be careful that there is no immorality, or that any of you does not degrade religion like Esau, who sold his birthright for one single meal. As you know, when he wanted to obtain the blessing afterwards, he was rejected and, though he pleaded for it with tears, he was unable to elicit a change of heart. » Ruben was the first-born of Jacob, but he lost his dignity because he had sexual relations with one of his father’s concubines (Gn 35: 21-22...). The death of the «first-born » of Egypt was significant because the nation was struck in its most representative part. « In a patriarchal family, the eldest son has a privileged position: he succeeds his father as head of the family and receives a double portion of the inheritance (with a special blessing that recognizes the right of age). » Israel, who was « the eldest son of God », (Ex 4: 22) also had a privileged role in the history of salvation, and Egypt paid dearly for not giving the « eldest son » his freedom.The « eldest son » is especially characterised by his special belonging to God: « Consecrate all the first-born to me, the first issue of every womb among the sons of Israel. Whether man or beast, this is mine » (Ex. 13, 2). This will subsequently be extended even to the produce of the soil (Lev. 22).For certain Protestant groups, however, the expression « first-born » suggests subsequent births and so Jesus is not the only child of Mary and Joseph. Not all Protestant theologians think this way. François Bovon of Geneva asks: “Why does Luke employ this expression « first-born »? By itself this adjective “first-born” does not offer any decisive proof for the existence of brothers of Jesus according to the flesh. Does this adjective not send us back to the first will of the Creator God to whom Jesus belongs? Or, is it not a Christological title to designate the Lord in his incarnation and resurrection as the first-born of a new humanity? This qualifying adjective is very rare in the bible. The word recalls the birth of the fathers or even the existence of Israel, the first-born of God. In any case, Luke places Jesus in his unique rela¬tion with the Father, and not in his relation with brothers or sisters.” Luke picks up this title again in the account of the Presentation, with the precise clarification that “the first-born male belongs to God”. For Luke the meaning of the title is ‘this child belongs to God in a quite special way, he is his First-born.” I think, in fact, that the term ‘first-born’ forms part of the titles given to Jesus in the birth pericope. These titles offer us the following picture: in the city of Da¬vid, and Jesus will be called son of David, Mary gives birth to a ‘first-born’ son, who is Saviour, Christ, Lord. Luke is preoccupied with the identity of Jesus. For the Lutheran Frederick W. Denker, the title ‘first-born’ emphasizes that this child has a right to inherit the throne of David (Cf 2 Chron 21: 3).THE FIRST-BORNIn the Bible, the term “first-born” has a sociological and theological value. The term refers to the dignity and rights, to the role of the first-born in society at that time and, in general, to all traditional societies based on agriculture or farming. The first-born is the one who normally becomes head of the family or clan. When problems arise, in the absence of the parents, the first-born is the one who calls the family together, guides the discussions and sanctions the decisions. He creates and assures the unity of the family. His social importance is such that he is always called “first-born” even if he is the only child. The writing on a tomb stone found in Jerusalem bears witnesses to this: a mother died giving birth to her “first-born” son.But the term also assumes a further theological value. Then it stands in relation to other passages of Scripture which throw light on Jesus:1-“Every first-born boy will be consecrated to the Lord” (Ex 13:2; Lk 2:2).2-“(Jesus is) the first-born of all creation” (Col 1:15).3-“he was the first to be born from the dead that he should be first in every way “(Col 1: 18, and Apoc. 1: 5).4-«Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep! » (1Cor 15 : 20). 5-“so that his Son might be the eldest of many brothers” (Rom 8: 30).6-« And he the eldest will not be ashamed to call us “brothers” (cf Hb 2: 17).7- Those saved by the Son form the Church « in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven” (Hb 12: 23).8-The prophet Zechariah describes the lamentation for the just one as that made for a first-born: « They will look on the one whom they have pierced; they will mourn for him as for an only son » (Zc 12: 10).Luke situates himself on the theological level, as does John in his Prologue where the Word is presented as the only Son, full of grace and truth. Biblical thought embraces all the dignities of this first-born son.

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