Tonight’s Gospel is often skipped over on Christmas because it is assumed that the people will fall asleep somewhere between Perez and Shealtiel.
We don’t know the names and so many ask “why should we listen to them?”
Besides, St. Paul, in the 2nd reading gives a much shorter explanation of history – he stands up and says “here is the history of things leading up to Christ – Slavery in Egypt then Saul then David then John the Baptist and then we get to Jesus!
Some might ask, “If we just used Paul’s version we’d be 10 minutes closer to Christmas Eve dinner at this point.
So why the list? Why the 47 name long genealogy of Jesus? It is first of all important to realize that this is the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel – and no writer starts out their story with something insignificant.
The problem for us is this – these names mean little to nothing. To those reading Matthew’s Gospel, though, this list was hugely significant. These names were the heroes and villains, the saints and sinners of the Old Testament. There was no tsunami of pop culture like we have today, no TV, no internet, no movies no books. Jehosaphat and Isaac and Jacob and David were, to the people reading and hearing St. Matthew’s Gospel, the equivalent to Harry Potter, Lebron James, and the John F. Kennedies of our day. The names in the genealogy we just heard would have conjured up images and stories of human triumph and failure, of simplicity and pride and humility. The Old Testament to St. Matthew’s readers WAS the popular culture, it WAS their entertainment. It WAS the stories that they viewed their own stories through.
First of all, then, a quick sidebar, I’d like to challenge us to something – this year let us learn the stories of these men and women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. Let us crack open the Old Testament and familiarize ourselves with the stories of these men and women. In the dawn of Christianity some came forward and said the Old Testament could be discarded ---- that theory was quickly labeled and is still considered a heresy. The stories of the Old Testament are our stories as well and this genealogy comes alive with drama and passion if we know the people behind the names. When next Christmas Eve comes, may we be familiar with the cast of characters that we heard moments ago.
What we should take away from this genealogy is that some were kings, some were adulterers, and some were farmers, the list includes virtue, murder, slavery, hope, victory, defeat – the story of the 47 names listed in the genealogy of Jesus is the story of human history – the good the bad and the ugly. Their stories are our stories – what we need to know is that these people were not angelic, passionless, stoic stock characters, and neither are we. Christ came from them and for them. In the same way, no matter our state in life, Christ came for us too.
He came for us and he came for you.
He came for you. Do not let your sins excuse you any longer from the drama of this faith, do not think that your sinfulness is found nowhere else in history, do not lie to yourself and think that God may love some people but he surely couldn’t have come for you, to save you. See in these men and women of this genealogy yourself, and come face to face with the reality that Christ came for you – and then do something about it.