Some, charged with the task of preaching on this Gospel, much prefer to preach on the first or second readings, finding little or no inspiration in this passage. But this, I believe, is to miss the great importance of the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. One of the first questions that should strike us when we compare the opening of Matthew’s Gospel to that of the other Gospels is why did Matthew decide to start with a lengthy genealogy? Rather than seeing this simply as a long list of difficult names to pronounce, there is another view that we can take of this very important passage. By means of this genealogy Matthew is making clear to his readers that the God of Israel, incarnate in Jesus, has claimed a human genealogy, and one which can be traced all the way back to Abraham, with whom God made a covenant. Now God has established the new covenant in Jesus, a covenant which is no longer limited to the Jewish people. God, in Jesus, has lowered himself from his heavenly thrown to enter fully into our human reality and take on our lowly humanity so as to raise us up to the heights of Heaven with him by redeeming us from our sins and opening the gates of Heaven to us.
Jesus is the fulfilment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament. He is the Saviour that God promised would come from the line of David and Matthew’s genealogy serves to make the fulfilment of this promise obvious to his readers by showing the direct line that runs from David to Jesus. All through the history of God’s chosen people, as recounted in the Old Testament, God’s providence was centre stage. The genealogy shows that the generations of history that it covers were all moving towards the fulfilment of God’s promise to send a saviour, a promise that has found it’s fulfilment now in Jesus – Emmanuel – God with his people.
Most Jewish genealogies only contained the names of male ancestors. A significant feature of Matthew’s genealogy is that it mentions four women, not including Mary. None of these were Jewish and three of them had been involved in serious immorality. Several of the male ancestors were also far from perfect examples of faithful and holy Jews. This is not exactly something you want to draw attention to in a genealogy for the Son of God so the listing of each of these names by St. Matthew is very deliberate and significant.
So what can we take away from this significant genealogy? For me it emphasises that Christ never held himself aloof from sinners. Later in St. Matthews Gospel, Jesus himself says that he came for sinners, not for the righteous. Jesus never keeps his distance from us when we fail, fall, or falter. It is precisely then that He runs to our side to help us stand again. As the Good Shepherd, it is the lost sheep that he longs to embrace and carry home to his flock. It also shows the power of God’s providence. Two thousand years of turbulent historical change, the brilliant rises and crashing falls of human empires, the harrowing upheavals and transformations of entire civilisations – none of this could hinder God from guiding the course of history exactly as he in his wisdom desired. If he did this with the human story, he can certainly do it with our stories. So if, when we look at the way things are in the world, we are tempted to think that God is not in control, I think we can take comfort from this Gospel passage when we realise how his providence had been working so completely amongst his chosen people in the Old Testament. As his beloved child, you can take comfort that you are always in the palm of his hand. He has loved you into existence, took on our humanity and died for you to save you from your sins so that you can be with him forever in Heaven. This is the immensity of the love of God for us that we celebrate at Christmas.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Ammin’adab, and Ammin’adab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Bo’az by Rahab, and Bo’az the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uri’ah, and Solomon the father of Rehobo’am, and Rehobo’am the father of Abi’jah, and Abi’jah the father of Asa, and Asa the father of Jehosh’aphat, and Jehosh’aphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzzi’ah, and Uzzi’ah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezeki’ah, and Hezeki’ah the father of Manas’seh, and Manas’seh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josi’ah, and Josi’ah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoni’ah was the father of She-al’ti-el, and She-al’ti-el the father of Zerub’babel, and Zerub’babel the father of Abi’ud, and Abi’ud the father of Eli’akim, and Eli’akim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eli’ud, and Eli’ud the father of Elea’zar, and Elea’zar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
- -Matthew 1:1-25