Saturday of the Third Week of Advent
Today’s Gospel is the one Catholics hear every year on December 17, which begins the pre-Christmas octave of infancy gospel readings during Mass. You know the passage to which I refer – the one with all the “begats.” It is a passage we tend to listen with a half of ear, smiling at the pronunciation of some of the unfamiliar names, and one that homilists often ignore, in favor of commenting on the first Mass reading.
Nonetheless, the theologian Raymond Brown suggests that this one reading in itself contains the essential theology of the Old and the New Testaments that the whole Church (Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) should proclaim.
When I pray with this passage several things stand out for me.
First, is the long and deliberate preparation by God for the sending of Jesus. The genealogy spans 42 generations! Jesus did not just pop out of a magic hat, as though God had an idea one day – let’s incarnate – and snapped his fingers to implement the idea. Rather, there was a long and carefully developed plan for the incarnation of God, a long period of time during which the people waited in darkness, longing for the coming of the Messiah.
Second, is the choice of who gets named, some of which are surprising. Younger brothers rather than first borns; Judah, who sold his brother into slavery, rather than Joseph; a list of kings who were (in the words of one commentator) “an odd assortment of idolaters, murderers, incompetents, power-seekers and harem-wastrals”; and a bunch of unknowns.
That is not just a historical observation, but one that has an important message for us. Raymond Brown writes,
A God who did not hesitate to use the scheming as well as the noble, the impure as well as the pure, men to whom the world hearkened and women upon whom the world frowned – this God continue to work through the same mélange. If it was a challenge to recognize in the last part of Matthew’s genealogy that totally unknown people were part of the story of Jesus Christ, it may be a greater challenge to recognize that the unknown characters of today are an essential part of the sequence. A sense of being unimportant and too insignificant to contribute to the continuation of the story of Jesus Christ in the world is belied by the genealogy.