The Genealogy of Jesus Christ (The Sunday before Christmas)

Icon - geneology of ChristIn today’s Gospel we have the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the long list of his ancestors. For those of us who remember older translations, this was a long list of “begats”, i.e., “Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob” and so on. Modern translations say something like “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac was the father of Jacob” and so on. The Bible is full of genealogies and for us these lists are probably the most boring part of the Bible. So why are they there?
We take the people we meet on their own. We do not think of their ancestors. They are who they are as individuals. However, for the ancient Hebrews and for many other ancient people, one did not know another person until one knew that person’s ancestors. A person is never separated from his other ancestors any more than a person is separate from his family now. So to know who Jesus is, we have to know His ancestors. Also, in the Old Testament it was prophesied that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David and this had to be shown in the genealogy.
A note should be added here about the concept of “son” in the Bible. For us, a son is the biological offspring of a man, or the adopted son of a man. But in the Bible, the concept of “son” is broader. Son can mean grandson or even a distant descendant. It could mean nephew. And so the genealogy tells us that Jesus is the son of Abraham and the son of David. We should note that the genealogy does not say that Joseph was the father of Jesus. That is because Jesus had no human father, but was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. However, Joseph was the legal father of Jesus, so Jesus was a legal descendant of King David. We can say that St. Matthew’s genealogy is a Jewish one, showing that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies, which promised a Messiah, a redeemer of the House of David and a descendant of Abraham. There is another genealogy given in the third chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel. It traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Adam, showing Jesus Christ’s solidarity with the whole human race, not only with the Jewish people. Abraham is the father of the Jewish people, of course, but in Genesis God tells Abraham that in him all nations will be blessed, all nations who come to believe in the God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament, but most fully in Jesus Christ.
Another important thing about the genealogy in St. Matthew’s Gospel is the inclusion of women. This is unusual became women did not ‘count’, so to speak, when determining one’s heritage. By including women, St. Matthew emphasizes their role in the history of salvation. But there is more we can say. Among these women are those who committed gave sins. So, for example, we have Rahab, a prostitute who hid the Hebrew spies from their enemy. We have Bathsheba, who committed adultery with King David. This shows that God never forgets about the sinner, always awaiting their return and repentance, and that repentant sinners (i.e., all of us) have a role to play in the history of salvation. This list also includes foreigners, the non-Jews, for example Ruth, who joined the Jewish people after the death of her Jewish husband. This shows that salvation is not something offered only to the people of a certain nationality or ethnic group, but is open to all of humanity. The presence of Ruth reminds us that even the very Jewish genealogy we find in St. Mathew’s Gospel also reaches beyond Judaism so in that sense it is also inclusive, as St. Luke’s Gospel is.
Actually, much more can and has been written about the genealogy of Jesus Christ as given in St. Matthew’s and St. Luke’s Gospels. They remind us that salvation, although stemming from the Jewish people, has now been offered to all humanity and there is room for repentant sinners and those who seem to be strangers to us.

Troparion — Tone 2

Great are the accomplishments of faith, for the Three Holy Youths rejoiced in the flames as though at the waters of rest, and the prophet Daniel appeared, a shepherd to the lions as though they were sheep. So by their prayers, O Christ God, save our souls!

Kontakion — Tone 1

Rejoice, Bethlehem! Prepare yourself, O Ephratha! The Lamb is on her way to give birth to the Chief Shepherd she carries in her womb. The God-bearing forefathers will rejoice, beholding Him, and with the shepherds, they will glorify the Virgin nursing Him.

Fr. John