Tree of Jesse
Now that our journey to Bethlehem has begun, it is amazing how the Church helps us on our road. Today is the feast of St. Matthew, the Evangelist and Apostle. Matthew is surrounded by “firsts.” He is the first-called apostle, his is the first book in the Gospels and he begins the story of Jesus by first outlining Jesus’ family tree. This is the Gospel pericope (a section of the Gospel designated for a liturgical reading) for the Sunday prior to Nativity of Christ. It is known as the Genealogy of Jesus.
Preparing to write this blog, I asked a very devote Church going couple, “What does this Gospel reading mean to you?” Their answer surprised me, “ A bunch of begetting and begotting and just a lot of meaningless names.” How should we who teach in the Church interpret this honest evaluation of a reading that is so familiar to each of us. We need to start with the basics. Why does the story of Jesus begin in such a strange way? What is its message? What is the basic Christian teaching about Jesus? As Christians, we believe Our Lord Jesus Christ is both Human and Divine! We must believe in the two natures of Christ. This is the miracle of Incarnation, Christ taking on our human nature, becoming fully man and fully God for the salvation of the world. St. Gregory of Nyssa declared: “that which is not assumed is not healed(saved).”
This is the truth of the Gospel! This is also the reality of this gospel reading. Christ assumes our humanity, the good and the bad. Look at the names. What do they tell us? Who are these people? First, the reading tells us that this is the family of Jesus. The son of a King named David and in the family of Abraham. David was not only a King, but also an adulterer and a murderer. Look at the names! That is the lesson of the reading. Who are these people? They are human beings with human strengths, failings and weaknesses. They are murderers, adulterers, Gentiles, the chosen of God and sinners. This is the human family that Jesus entered. He joined our condition by embracing them. By embracing them, he embraces all of us. He wishes to save all of humanity, the righteous and the sinner. We are Christ’s family, He reaches out and embraces all of us; so that we can know His love. His humanity is soiled until He transfigures it with His Divinity. He incarnates perfect humanity so that we know our potential in Him. This is the reality of the genealogy of Christ that we read in St. Matthew’s gospel. True to God’s promise to Abraham, but always reflecting our human condition. The genealogy of Christ allows us to know that His love embraces all of us, no matter how sinful or lost.