At my local No Frills supermarket, the bananas bear little stickers that say “Guatemala” or “Honduras” or another banana-producing nation, to identify where they came from. Look inside my warm winter coat and you’ll see “Made in the D.R. of Italian fabric.” Quote a clever line or cite a statistic, and I’ll want to know your source. Where did the words, where did the facts, where did the ideas come from? I want the card by the painting; I want to know who painted this landscape, and preferably where and when. We understand, we have confidence in, we can believe in the things of this world when we know how they came to be.
Thus the Gospel of Matthew begins by telling where Jesus came from, from whom he came. Such an opening announces “This is a true story about a man born in a real place and time” – a real historical figure, part of a long history of a people and their covenant with God. I’m a bit dubious about these precisely named and numbered 42 generations from Abraham, (the time element is too short) -- but I think I get the point.
To us today, genealogy, knowing one’s ancestry, is a popular research field and pastime, sometimes driven by serious religious, legal or health concerns. For the early Christians, who were Jews, this lengthy and rhythmic listing of the names of ancestors, heroes and sinners, forefathers and some foremothers too, would establish Jesus in their own history. For us, it reminds us that, for our sake, true God became true Man. The baby born on Christmas Day, born in history and re-born each year in our minds and hearts, is truly one of our blood relatives – and yet, eternally, our Lord and Savior.
Now I see that in the first reading, Judah, who was singled out among all the sons of Jacob and promised to receive tribute and homage, is both ancestor and precursor of Jesus. Now I see that these “uninspiring” Scriptural excerpts call us to reverence our human nature, now and forever transformed by the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
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