Daily Reflection
December 17th, 2004
Robert P. Heaney
John A. Creighton University Professor
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The first book of the Hebrew Bible is Genesis, the story of creation. In this first line of the first book of the New Testament, we encounter the exact same word: “This is the genesis of Jesus the King.” A new creation. Then follows a list of nearly unpronounceable Old Testament names that cause the eyes to glaze and the mind to go into day-dream mode. What did the Church (or Matthew) have in mind in giving us this reading?

If we knew our Old Testament better, it might not be so puzzling. This list is a bit like confronting baby boomers with the names of characters from SNL; the names are all you need to evoke a whole culture. 

We have just come through a national election. Whether your candidate won or lost, I think it is safe to say that his official biographer would not have assembled the kind of family tree that Matthew gives us for Jesus the King. Abraham and Isaac are sound, of course, but Jacob got his inheritance by deception; Judah failed in his duty to Tamar; Solomon was born of a woman whose husband, David, had had killed. And of the kings following Solomon, most were idolaters, woman chasers, and general incompetents. Also the list includes five women (unexpected in Old Testament genealogies), four of them foreigners, and three pregnant in questionable circumstances. Yet out of this disreputable and dubious background, God – who writes straight with crooked lines – drew his Son, whose birth we celebrate soon. The background actually fits the mission, for in his public life Jesus fraternized with the disreputable and unedifying, precisely to draw them to God. 

So far so good. Maybe the list is interesting and instructive after all. But it is not just a story: the lineage does not stop where Matthew left off. We, who are Christ in the world, have our own lineage.  Jesus called Paul, and Paul called Timothy, and Timothy called . . . on and on. In our times someone called Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, and they in turned called others. Someone called you and me, and we must do the same. 

Like Jesus’ antecedents, our own lineage is sometimes distinguished, often disreputable and corrupt, and usually pretty humble. It is helpful to remember that of the last 14 names in Matthew’s list, most are found nowhere else in scripture. They were unknowns – little people, like us. To quote Fr. Raymond Brown, “The God who wrote the beginnings with crooked lines also writes the sequence with crooked lines, and some of those lines are our own lives and witness.”

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