I’m not a genealogy enthusiast but my sister pours over photos of great- great aunts I’ve never heard of as she sorts out our ties with unfamiliar branches of our family. Her efforts have given me a much better sense of who we are by clarifying our roots and verifying family lore and legends.
That’s why I have an enhanced appreciation of Matthew’s detailed genealogy of Jesus in today’s Gospel. The first time I heard it read in church, I was policing small children and wondering WHY we were subjected to this long, boring list of names no one could pronounce. Who cared?
Now, however, I realize that Matthew’s chronology of Jesus’ ancestry authenticates his human roots and establishes his bona fides. This must have been extremely important in spreading the Gospel to Jewish converts especially in diaspora communities.
These people might have heard reports about the events in Palestine but discounted them as wild tales. However the specificity of Matthew’s list (which could easily be verified) established Jesus as a real man, not a mythical figure. It helped people believe that Jesus’ works weren’t mythological tales like those told about the Greek and Roman gods.
The precision of this chronology has the same effect on us that it did on the people of Matthew’s era. It helps convince us that Jesus lived and performed the deeds credited to Him even if we don’t have photos of Jesus like those of my stone-faced ancestors.
This is no small matter. I still recall a freshman history lecture in which our professor told us that there is no historical proof that Jesus had even existed – not what we had learned at Lourdes Central in Nebraska City. While I continued to believe, it’s nice to know that there is a chronology of Jesus’ roots that was persuasive to the people of his era. We can gain a new sense of the historical Jesus from this just as my sister’s work has given me new insights in the lost tribes of our O’Brien relatives.