(Click here for readings)
“Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
When asked to identify oneself, one rarely recourses to their ancestry, much less one’s ancestry from the past 28 generations. Most people do not even mention their family much at all, unless they come from some political family with influence. We tend to focus on the present, what we do right now, to properly inform others of who we are. The past does not signify much in our decisions—the past did not have Internet, smartphones, or social networking; therefore, it seems unlikely to have much bearing on today’s reality, or at least it feels that way.
Naturally, leaders of society take advantage of this prejudice in favor of the present. They distract listeners with the future, and sometimes the present—if something good has happened—to push their agendas. Thus, in the public consciousness, the past tends to merge with fantasy; sadly, family tends to darken into the haze of the past as well. People of today, particularly younger generations, prefer to adopt new figures for family if they have any yearnings for someone close at all. Celebrities,public figures, and lovers capitalize on this and offer themselves—and such is the secret of marketing,campaigning, and hookup culture.
Ignoring one’s ancestry, and immediate family,inevitably takes a heavy toll on one’s sense of identity. The present has no form or meaning if one has no knowledge of the past. Internet and smartphones notwithstanding, an individual suffers a setback in personal knowledge if he does not understand where comes from. While Locke’s idea of a blank slate figures heavily into our imaginations, we are not blank slates, but messy palimpsests (a used and reused writing tablet) produced by family. Lacking a knowledge of one’s family history, or disavowing family altogether, does not wipe the slate clean, as people seems to think it does; rather, it shrinks the slate and even dirties it a little more. Parents, grandparents, and beyond all remind us of our humanity, our connection with our surroundings, our origins, and this in turn give us a foundation. Jobs come and go; friends come and go; even culture comes and goes; but family, both alive and dead, remains firmly in place.
Without family, one’s sense of self can easily disconnect with reality. As the existentialist like to imagine, human beings without a past must recreate themselves anew every day. They often bear the burden of supplying a personality that fits with the immediate occasion, splitting into multiple selves: a work-self, a domestic-self, a social-self, a vacation-self, a scholar-self, etc. With so much shifting and recreating, these people fail to recognize who theyare in truth and find themselves caught up in appearances.
Admittedly, Jesus does not preach about family in this way, yet the gospel writers, particularly Matthew and Luke, do hope to make a point about it from the very start. Matthew lists the twisting family line of ancestors who precede Jesus as a preface to his narrative. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI makes the point that this line “is a somber history that leads to Jesus; it is not without its moments of light, its hopes, and advances, but on the whole it is a history of shabbiness, sin, and failure.” For a line that includes murderous kings, adulterers, and prostitutes, it seems odd to mention them as an introduction to the Messiah who shall redeem the world. Even if it happens to satisfy some prophecies,it also makes Jesus look way too human to be the Son of God having the nobility of a heavenly king.
However, this is the point of Jesus’ genealogy. His humanity makes Him truly real and allows Him to redeem the world. He does not merely materialize into mortal form, only to return back to the celestial world after setting a fine moral example for the people to follow in the fashion of some pagan myth. He enters into history and, having a history Himself, can actually change it by becoming a part of it.
Furthermore, Jesus’ family line does not just make Him human; it makes Him a particular human. Jesus would not be recognizable, not in His time nor in ours, if His ancestry remained unknown. His family roots make Him the Messiah, not just a “messiah figure.” Once believers take away Jesus’ family tree and disregard the history that leads up to Him, they can make no sense of Jesus as He is in the gospels. He becomes a malleable myth, a flexible fable, thatfoolish people manipulate and perpetuate to comfort one another, not a man who forms the unshakeable center of our lives.
The genealogy demonstrates just how far God was willing to go to save humanity. He did not only adoptthe superficial human qualities, but all the profound ones as well. Noting this, Benedict points out that“the Incarnation of God does not result from an ascent on the part of the human race but from the descent of God.” Jesus’ history matters, as does every person’s. Just as it helps us to recognize Jesus, it will help us to recognize ourselves—and just how much we need family, both physical and spiritual.