Dec. 17, 2015 Thursday: 3rd Week of Advent C
A Royal Son: Genealogy and Birth of Jesus
The opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is a stumbling block for many modern readers. Why begin a Gospel with a list of more than forty names? A biblical genealogy does not seem to be the most captivating way to draw readers into the story of Jesus. As one commentator put it, “Reading other people’s genealogies is about as exciting as watching other people’s holiday videos.” But for the ancient Jews, a genealogy was not merely a catalog of old names. Each name told a story and recalled key events in salvation history. Biblical genealogies also conferred identity and privileges on members of a family, bestowing a sense of mission and responsibility.
The particular genealogy in Matt 1:1-17 compresses the entire history of Israel into seventeen short verses. The many names would have brought to mind the various twists and turns, triumphs and tragedies, in that story. By tracing Jesus’ lineage back to David and Abraham, Matthew places the story of Jesus within the larger plot of God’s dealings with Israel and, at the same time, announces that Israel’s story is reaching its climax in the child at the end of the line. Most of all, the genealogy establishes Jesus’ messianic credentials. Grafted onto the trunk of David’s royal lineage, Jesus will appear as the legal heir of this family’s kingly prerogatives that have been passed down from generation to generation.
By entering into the ancient Jewish yearnings for Christ’s first coming two thousand years ago, we prepare our souls to welcome him into our hearts at Christmas. Perhaps the New Testament passage that best encapsulates the spirit of Advent and the ancient Jewish longing for the messiah is the genealogy of Jesus in Matt 1:2-17. Indeed, this family tree sums up “the hopes and fears of all the years” in Israel’s waiting for the savior. Undoubtedly, many ancient Jews were full of fear in the midst of much suffering and oppression, wondering where God was in their trials and questioning whether he would ever come to their aid. But the faithful also clung to hope: hope in the promises and prophecies of old, confidence in God’s faithfulness, and trust that there was some purpose in their suffering and that God one day would rescue them.
Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew