17 December – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 1:1-17

Perhaps this is regarded as one of the dullest Gospel readings of the year! It consists of a long list of names, many of which mean very little to most Christians. But it has one resounding message: Jesus fully entered our human condition, with all its virtues and vices.

One of the main purposes of Matthew’s Gospel, which was written for Jewish Christians by Jewish Christians, is to show the continuity of Jesus in the history and tradition of Israel. Jesus was no upstart. Still less was he a rebel or a traitor. On the contrary, he was the natural development of the long process of God’s relationship with his people. Not only was he the natural development, he was the long-awaited climax. He was no less than the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed King of Israel.

Today’s passage from Matthew is the opening of his Gospel. It is introduced with the words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” These two names are the most significant in the family line. Jesus, as the Christ, will be a King in the line of David. And, he is descended from Abraham to whom God had said: “…in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing” (Gen 22:18).

The genealogy is divided into three significant parts, each with fourteen generations. This is probably because the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in David’s name amounts to 14. The third and last list actually only contains 13 names. Perhaps Matthew meant Jesus’ name to be part of the list. After all, the genealogy of Jesus continues beyond him to his followers. Or perhaps a scribe somewhere along the line got his numbers mixed up.

The first part is from Abraham down to David, the second, from David to the deportation to Babylon, and the third, from the deportation to Joseph and Mary.

Of course, it is not a complete genealogy. The names mentioned all appear one way or another in the Hebrew Testament. There are four women mentioned – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Mary – each one of them are interesting characters in their own right. There are also a number of scoundrels in the list. Even David, one of the most outstanding servants of God, was an adulterer and a murderer (apart from those he killed in war).

When the Son of God became a human being, he really did become one of us. The Gospel makes no effort to “sanitise” his origins, or the members of his immediate family. There is no shortage of skeletons in Jesus’ cupboard. When John says, “The Word became a human being and lived among us”, he said no less than the truth.

And, if Jesus was totally incarnated in the world so that he could communicate the message of God’s love to the world and for the world, then we too, must be totally incarnated. We are not true to our calling if we think that, in order to be true to Jesus, we have to separate ourselves from a material and sinful world. We cannot be the “salt” of the earth, unless we are fully inserted into it. But this happens only when we also fully identify with the values and concerns of the Kingdom. Otherwise we are salt without taste.

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