When someone who knows little or nothing about Jesus Christ comes to us, what do we say to them and where do we begin to tell the story of Jesus? I don’t think that there are many who would begin where Matthew did in his Gospel account, where the first line of the first page of the New Testament begins - with the unequivocal assurance: This is "the story of the beginning/the origin/the genesis of Jesus Christ." This is where God’s great dialogue with us reaches its apex or its culmination! For Matthew, the origin of Jesus Christ starts with Abraham begetting Isaac! Matthew's list of people who are a part of the origin of Jesus Christ contains some of the most significant names in the biblical account of God's great dialogue with His people Israel.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king. David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
…After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
…Eliud the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:1-17).
There are three groupings of people identified in this genealogy that offer a striking pedagogy to us: the Patriarchs, the Kings and the Unkonwn and the Unexpected.
"The story of the origin of Jesus Christ" begins with the patriarchal period when Abraham begets Isaac. The puzzling story continues with Jacob begetting Judah and his brothers. Judah is singled out, and the Messiah comes from his tribe. Wasn't Joseph clearly the best of the brothers? Surely he is a much better reflection or embodiment of Jesus' story, not Judah who sold his brother and sought out prostitutes. For Matthew, God is not controlled by human merit but is filled with utter graciousness. God’s dialogue with humans in history is never thwarted because of the weakness, failures, indifference and sinfulness of his interlocutors!
When we peer closer into Matthew’s origins of Jesus, we see that it builds up from Abraham to the summit of "David the king." Yet only Kings Hezekiah and Josiah could be considered as faithful to God's standards as outlined in the book of Deuteronomy. The rest of the lot was nothing more than a motley collection of idolaters, murderers, incompetents, power-seekers, and public sinners–the real mafiosi of Jesus’ past! The story involved not only individuals with their strengths and weaknesses, but institutions, organizations, structures and a hierarchy embedded in absolute monarchs and rulers. Once again, God’s dialogue with humans in history is never thwarted because of the use or abuse of power, the corruption and wretchedness of tyrants, nor the weakness and glaring failures of human beings. Let us never be ashamed of the dark spots on our communal and personal histories, but realize that God continues to speak to us and dialogue with us through them, in spite of them and because of them.
In the third grouping, with the exception of Shealtiel and Zerubbabel and Joseph and Mary, the names represent a collection of unknown people whose names never made it into sacred history for having done great things. While powerful rulers in the monarchy brought God's people to a low ebb in history that ended in deportation, it was the unknown people, including many saints and sinners, who were the unwitting instruments of renewal, restoration and hope. We must never forget that God’s dialogue with human beings is faithful and his grace is unpredictable. God’s purposes will very often be accomplished through those that the world considers to be unimportant, unglamorous, unintelligent, uneducated, unsophisticated, non-descript and even forgettable!
When we consider Matthew's story and the total picture, the genealogy teaches us that the beginning was anything but an idealized, perfect reality of straight lines and brilliant colours; the Gospels teach us that his ministry was not thus; nor does the Church history teach us the sequence was thus. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus who wrote the beginnings with crooked lines also writes the continuation with crooked lines, and those lines are our own lives and witness. God's powerful dialogue with humanity is unbroken from the divine side, even if we have broken the link on countless occasions on the human side.
Jesus is God’s perfect dialogue partner, the model receiver and communicator – his communication is not just the message he proclaimed in word and deed but his very gift of himself in love to all people. In becoming man, Jesus emptied himself so that he could share our condition and reveal the fullness of God’s love. Jesus did not merely preach God’s love and mercy but embodied it in his very being. Word and action were one! When we seek to communicate the message of Jesus, and dialogue with others about it, we are proclaiming a person rather than a history of words, facts and deeds; we are inviting people into relationship with a person and not simply to adhere to a teaching. Jesus, himself, made flesh the words of love, service, healing and forgiveness that he so consistently preached. His actions – his miracles, his treatment of people, his limitless giving of himself for others – speak even more eloquently.
Later in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus professes to have come to gather the lost sheep of Israel (cf. Mt 15:24) and forbids his disciples to turn to the Gentiles (cf. Mt 10:5). Yet he displays an open attitude towards men and women who do not belong to the chosen people of Israel. He enters into dialogue with them and recognizes the good that is in them. He marvels at the centurion's readiness to believe, saying that he has found no such faith in Israel (cf. Mt 8:5-13). He performs miracles of healing for "foreigners" (cf. Mk 7:24-30; Mt 15:21-28), and these miracles are signs of the in-breaking of the Kingdom. He dialogues with the Samaritan woman and speaks to her of a time when worship will not be limited to any one particular place, but when true worshippers will "worship the Father in spirit and truth." (Jn 4:23) Jesus is thus opening up a new horizon and a dialogue that are clearly of Christ and the Spirit of Christ.
We can learn much from Jesus’ style of communicating, from his use of parables and stories, from his attentiveness to the different audiences with which he engaged, from his personal involvement with each individual he encounters; from his method of dialogue with everyone. But in the final analysis these different elements point us to the essence of Jesus as one who gives his life, who pours himself out, for others. The highpoint of Jesus’ self-communication is in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ gave us the most perfect and most intimate form of communication and communion between God and human beings possible in this life, and, out of this, the deepest possible unity between one another.
God’s communication platform is the human person and Christmas inaugurates a completely new kind of dialogue and real friendship with God. The Word did not become an e-mail, an SMS or text message, a tweet, Facebook message or some kind of divine oracle uttered from some distant heaven long ago. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real people in real time. Through the wonder and mystery of the Incarnation, the Word did not become a philosophy, a theory, or a concept to be discussed, debated, exegeted, critiqued or pondered. But the Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! Our redemption is found in the Child of Bethlehem, the culmination of God’s great dialogue with the human family.
*This article was originally published in the 2016-2017 Salt + Light Magazine
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