The march of the unqualified – Saturday, 3rd Week in Advent – Matthew 1:1-17
We enter now the last lap of the Advent season and the spotlight shifts from the Parousia to the birth of Jesus. For the next nine days we will hear parts of the infancy narrative from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke; the only two Gospel that record the narrative surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.
Today’s readings look unsparingly at Jesus’ ancestry; it’s called the genealogy. Matthew, writing in a Jewish environment, begins his Gospel of Jesus by tracing the ancestry of Jesus back to the patriarchs. What Matthew is trying to do is to place Jesus’ birth within the context of Jewish history from the time of Abraham up to the birth of Jesus. Genealogies in Scripture always point in some way to the Lord, and the Lord’s choice. Look at this list as a star cast and credits of those involved in this great production. Yet there are surprises in this list of Jesus’ ancestors.
This genealogy spans the whole history of salvation, from Abraham through David, in six groups of 7 names or three groups of fourteen name ( multiples of seven), 7 being the perfect number for Hebrews. The first fourteen names mentioned are those of the patriarchs, people such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The second fourteen are Israel’s kings, especially Kings David and Solomon. The last fourteen are unknowns from Israel’s past who played a vital role in the coming of the Messiah.
This gospel weaves a thread of the long history that eventually brings us to Jesus. Yet when you look closely at this list, especially of David’s descendants, all but three were total disappointments, many of them worshiping false gods. The three that were considered adequate were Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah
Jesus’ family tree is a mix of holy and unholy figures, public sinners and outcasts. Jesus’ forbears included children born of incest (Perez), of mixed races (Boaz), and of adultery (Solomon). Some are promiscuous liars, bullies, and thieves. While Rahab made the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11:31, she’s named as a prostitute, and Ruth seduced Boaz to secure her future (Ruth 3:9-10). Solomon also had 700 wives and 300 concubines who turned him to apostasy, or the worship of other gods (1 Kings 11:1-8). On the one hand, David came to fame by comforting Saul with a lyre and slaying Goliath with a sling stone in 1 Samuel 16:23; 17:50. On the other hand, in 2 Samuel 11:17 he killed Uriah, an innocent soldier fighting to protect his empire, so that he could cover up a baby conceived through his philandering with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. That baby would eventually die.
Matthew’s genealogy is revolutionary for his time, in that it features women. In addition, four of the women were gentiles: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. The first three women were not Israelites, and Bathsheba was not married to an Israelite. The irregular marriages of the women may well have prepared Matthew’s readers for the extraordinary way in which Jesus was conceived.
Matthew points out that God entered into our human history with all the episodes that proud people would be ashamed of. The list contains saint and sinner, honest and corrupt reflecting God’s gracious choices. Yet each played an important role and no one’s life was insignificant to God’s plan. Jesus does own his family story. He does not airbrush out any one of his ancestors. God could work through all kinds of people. It tells us that Jesus was fully inserted into the human story with its gifts and failures. Seeing that, why would we be surprised at Jesus’ choice of disciples or that he was at home with tax collectors and sinners?
The genealogy reveals God providence; what he plans happens always. He is looking after us all most carefully and we can feel safe in his hands.