‘So all the generations…’
Reflections on the Nativity Gospel (3)
As it turns out, the three lists of the ancestors of Christ that open the Gospel of Matthew are not merely endless, but rather endlessly fascinating. They are a keynote to Matthew’s understanding of the Incarnation. We have already seen the way the lists define Jesus as the Messiah by linking him to King David. But there is much more.
Matthew also traces the lineage of David himself, back to the patriarch Abraham, the ‘man of faith’ to whom God declared that
by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves (Gen. 22:18)
Matthew thus uses his genealogy to reveal Jesus not only as Israel’s awaited messiah but as the savior of all the nations. Abraham became the head of the list as the ‘father of us all’ (Rom. 4:16) by trusting God’s promise to provide him an heir through his wife, Sarah, although she was old and barren. By his faith, he established a fundamental fact about God’s creative power
God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did (Rom. 4:17)
This divine power is the link between the Christ’s genealogy (his ‘genesis’ in the Greek original) and the first book of the Hebrew bible, also called Genesis. In Genesis, God brings into being all creation step-by-step solely through his word and spirit. While Christ himself has a human succession as Son of David, he too was begotten, not by human generation, but by divine Spirit as Son of God.
There are also four women in Matthew’s list. None of them could match the purity of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Indeed, there was something irregular, even scandalous about them. Tamar posed as a prostitute to trick Judah into providing her an heir. Rehab was a Canaanite who welcomed the Hebrew spies scouting the promised land, then married an Israelite and gave birth to Boaz, who in turn married the Moabite foreigner Ruth. All this was in the line of David, whose one son, Solomon, was the result of David’s adulterous union with Bathsheba, the wife of the Uriah the Hittite.
Human, all too human. Such was the family tree of Jesus Christ, the Son of David and the Son of God. As children of God, we too are grafted into this tree.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will (Eph. 1:5)