A long list
When I was a country Rector in the Church of England I would receive from time to time requests for information from our parish registers. Serving traditional country parishes, the parishes were reluctant to part with their ancient registers into the central diocesan archive, so it was not uncommon for me to receive a request for a register search. Although they didn't always arrive at convenient moments, in a way I quite enjoyed dusting off the old registers and peering through their crisp pages. I was often struck by the beautiful handwriting of all entries before the 1950’s and how the hand-writing went downhill from there! But I was also struck how in the 19th and 18th century so many entries contained signatures consisting of an X and alongside the Rector’s annotation “the mark of…” For some people the researching of their genealogy is very important to them.
Clearly for Matthew the genealogy of Jesus Christ is very important. Today we hear the long list of names read out at mass (Matt 1:1-17). We might think it a little boring. We might think there is nothing of inspiration in today’s gospel. But we need to ask ourselves, “Why?” None of us would miss these 17 verses if Matthew hadn't included them. Well the point is that although we might not, Matthew’s original hearers/readers did appreciate it. Matthew is establishing Jesus’ kingly messianic credentials as he effectively states in verse 1: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” He is establishing that Jesus is in fact of the line of Abraham and of the line of King David. God promised long before that “kings” would stem from Abraham’s line (Gen 17:6) and later promised, in a covenant oath, that David would always have a dynastic heir (2 Sam 7:16; Ps 89:3-4).
Matthew establishes for us Jesus’ earthly credentials while not undermining His divinity. Jesus is of course not the biological son of Joseph, but Joseph does accept Jesus into his family lineage. Matthew reminds us of this at the end when he says, “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” Despite the long list of “the father of”, now at the end Matthew is preparing to reveal that Jesus was miraculously born of the Virgin Mary, without the contribution of an earthly father, but instead the Holy Spirit.
One final comment on this genealogy is to say that the gospel here is ensuring we understand that Jesus is human as well as divine. It doesn’t use that sort of language, but by establishing Jesus human ancestry we can be in no doubt that His divinity did not exclude His human nature received from Mary and he was part of an earthly family. This is the wonder of the Incarnation, which in this last week before the great and solemn feast, we contemplate. God’s plan for the salvation of mankind was worked out through the lives of real human beings. This is not just for the past, but even now God has a part for us to play, in His great plan.