When we are children, we are all interested in knowing our family heritage. Who are we, where are we from, who all are there in our extended family, where did our family come from, and many other questions. These are some basic questions about family origins which have been asked for millennia. People across the globe have looked to their past in order to explain how they arrived in their present situation.
On the Sunday before we commemorate the Nativity of our Lord, we hear a reading from the Gospel of Luke which includes a long list of names in Jesus’ family tree, or a “genealogy”. The Old Testament contains many genealogies, especially in 1 – 2 Kings and in 1 Chronicles 1 – 9. These lists identify someone within the larger family tree together with extended family and their offspring.
In the New Testament, we have two different genealogies, in Matthew 1:1-17 and the other in Luke 3:23-38. Luke begins with Joseph and traces the lineage of Jesus back to the first man Adam, while Matthew begins with Jesus and traces his family through the lineage of both the great King David and through Abraham, the first patriarch. Luke’s genealogy includes only men, while Matthew includes both men and women. Matthew and Luke wrote their genealogies for different purposes, and therefore, we should not be surprised that there are differences between the two genealogies. Jesus did not appear from just anywhere, but was from a specific family and was born in a particular time and place with a particular family. The prophet Isaiah alludes to the root of Jesse in his prophecies to Israel, which are also read aloud during the services of Nativity of the Lord:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Thou has multiplied the nation, Thou has increased its joy; they rejoice before Thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. From the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, Thou has broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the trampling warriors in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, hoon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:2-7).
Isaiah also says that all nations will bow down and worship God, because He is faithful to His word and will not allow Israel’s enemies to subdue them (Isaiah 11:15). Isaiah spooks of a messiah who will bring both peace and justice, as the ox and lamb lie together so too well the messiah bring enemies together. Isaiah’s prophesy was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus who brings the eternal peace of God to both Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman.
Matthew also mentions King David in the genealogy. King David was also one of the greatest and most beloved kings of the Old Testament. In his youth, David was a shepherd boy and musician who slew the giant Goliath. He was the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons and was anointed a king by Prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 16:10-13. See also 2 Sam. 5:1-5).
As King, he led the Israelites in battle and provided justice and equity among the people. The Book of Psalms is attributed to him. In the New Testament, Jesus is often mentioned in connection with King David (Matt. 9:27, Luke 18:38, John 7:42, and 2 Tim. 2:8). However, King David also had a dark side; he fell into sin after he had Uriah sent to his death on the battlefield so that he could also with Uriah’s wife Bathsheeba. Yet, even though David did a terrible thing, he repented and was obedient to God.
Matthew also links Jesus with the first patriarch Abraham, who is mentioned three times in the birth narratives (Matt. 1:1, 2, 17). Abraham is an important person in the Old Testament, because the covenant promise was first given to him that he would be the father of all nations (Gen. 12:1-3. See also Isaiah 19:24, Acts 3:25-26, Romans 4:13). Abraham is important, because it is through his offspring that God will provide His blessing. Thus, God fulfills His promise-covenant through Abraham.
While Matthews genealogy clearly connects Jesus with both the kingly Davidic line and with the Abrahamic covenant, Matthew also includes four noteworthy women in Jesus’ family: Rahab, Ruth, Tamar and Mary. Rahab was a harlot from Jericho who helped the two spies escape the city of Jericho (Joshua 2:1-24); Ruth was a Moabite who lived among Israelites (Ruth 1:1-5); Tamar was a Canaanite woman who disguised herself as a prostitute in order to seduce Judah (Gen. 38:1ff); and Mary was an unwed bride who bore Jesus. All of these women were strong yet also provided opportunities for God to work His salvation through their actions. These women were also obedient and faithful to the Lord. Ruth remained close to her mother in law Naomi when Naomi’s son died; Tamar married Judah who later became one of the great leaders of the southern Kingdom; and Mary accepted the angel’s message that she would bear the son of God.
Matthews genealogy shows us that Jesus’ family was certainly a very mixed crew. Jesus’ family included all types of people: political leaders, kings, queens, gentiles, sinners, not to mention murderers, harlots, liars, and other unsavory types of people. Perhaps, Matthew is trying to tell us that Jesus comes from a very human family, not very different from families like ours. Yet, it is their this human family that God chooses to bring His salvation. The biblical God wants His salvation through the sinners and outsiders on the margins of society, especially the poor, widow, orphan and outsider. Jesus comes to those who are not accepted in society and shows His love in concrete ways. He eats with sinners, speaks with outsiders and is a friend of harlots. Jesus goes out of His way to welcome those in society whom no one else will welcome. He provides us with the best example of how to show hospitality to strangers. One of Jesus’ names attributed to Him in the birth narratives is Emmanuel, which means, “God with us”. During the Christmas Season, we are reminded that God is truly with us and finds His home in our strange human family.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.
(Ref: Icon shows the Root of Jesse bringing forth King David, from whom Solomon comes forth and then Mary, the Theotokos and Jesus from Mary, surrounded by all the prophets)