An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, 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 Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar 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 the Messiah.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. Matthew 1:1-17 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Good morning, once again, and Merry Christmas to you on this sixth day of Christmas - a season that is only twelve days long.
When I first read through our Gospel, my immediate thought was that many of you would be grateful not to have to read this text today - this lineage of Jesus. The second thought I had was one of frustration with the developers of the narrative lectionary - frustration that they would choose this text for pastors to preach on. I mean, come on! What is there to find in this list of names. This list of Jesus’ ancestors.
Then, coincidently, I received this interesting gift from my son for Christmas. How many of you know what this is? That’s right. It’s a saliva test from 23andMe - better known as Ancestry.com. A DNA test. To help me find out more about my own ancestry.
My son knows that I, along with several of my family members, have been working on our family tree for some time on Ancestry.com. My mother actually began this work when she created a fabric wall hanging for my paternal grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary in 1972. Since that time, we’ve continued to work on it. Work that has been immensely improved over the past several years through the internet and websites like Family Search and My Heritage and, yes, Ancestry.com.
Three of my four grandparents emigrated from Europe around the turn of the 20th century. We don’t have much history beyond their generation, although that is beginning to change as more and more records become available from European sources. The biggest challenge now is being able to read birth certificates or baptismal records in German. Their ancestry is a reminder for me, though, that it is only two generations back from mine that we were newly-emigrated to this country. That we were like those trying to come into this country now - and that, at the time my ancestors came, there were no laws to restrict them from entering.
There is a fourth grandparent - my paternal grandmother - whose family line we have been able to trace much further back. In this country, we’ve traced our family line to Aquila Chase, a man who came with his brother to New England in 1636, just 16 years after the pilgrims. In England, we’ve traced this line all the way back to 1225.
Why do we do this? This searching back into our family line? This seeking to find out more about our ancestors? Perhaps it is to find out who we are. Because it is our families who do this - who give us our identity.
And, so, it is with our text today. Within this list of names we see who Jesus is.
There’s been an immense amount of literature written on these first 17 verses. Did you notice, for example, that Matthew’s record of Jesus’ ancestors begins with Abraham. This is different than Luke’s, which traces Jesus’ ancestry all the way back to Adam. Why? Well, we’ve talked before about how each writer of the gospels intended to reach a certain audience for certain purposes. Where as Luke intends to show the universal scope of Jesus’ ancestry, Matthew seeks to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promised blessing given to Abraham - that through Abraham all the world would be blessed.
Do you also notice that Matthew’s genealogy shows a mathematical precision? That there are 14 generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen generations from the exile to Christ? Fourteen. A number divisible by 7. Seven, which is a number associated with perfection. The seven days of creation. The seventh day of the week. The day of rest. The Sabbath. In these three periods of Hebrew history - the ancestral period, the monarchy, and the exile - there are six periods of seven generations, according to Matthew’s calculations. Thus, the advent of the Messiah - the coming of Jesus - is appropriately the beginning of the seventh period, the messianic period, the period of perfection.
Then, do you notice the four women mentioned in the genealogy. In this list of patriarchs. An anomaly in ancestral lists. The only list in which women are mentioned. All non-Israelites. Women living in a patriarchal society, needing to do what was necessary for their own survival. Also, the naming of a New Testament woman. Mary. Of whom Jesus was born. Mary, with her unconventional pregnancy.
There is much we can learn from Matthew’s list of Jesus’ ancestors. Perhaps, though, the most important aspect of this list is pointed out to us by Raymond Brown, one of the most important New Testament scholars of our day. In a reading that Keith shared with me this past week - a reading written by author Gail Godwin, but that talks about Brown’s insight on this list.
In it, she points out that Brown notices that Matthew’s genealogy contains the essential theology of the Reformation. That of salvation by grace.
Do you notice that the story of the origin of Jesus Christ begins with Abraham begetting Isaac. There’s no mention of the older brother, Ishmael. The deserving older brother. Then Isaac is the father of Jacob. With no mention of Esau, the brother whose birthright Jacob stole. Jacob, then, is the father to Judah. Not Joseph, who was sold into slavery by Judah and his brothers.
Brown points out that this list in Matthew tells us that God does not necessarily select the most noble or the most deserving person to carry on the legacy. To carry on God’s purposes.
God selects the Judahs who sell their brothers into slavery. And the Jacobs who cheat their brothers to first place. And the Davids, who steal wives and murder rivals. And women. Not women like Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel, but women with checkered sexual histories or with scandal attached to their names, even Mary, the mother of Jesus.
No, Brown notes, God doesn’t select the saints. God selects the sinners. As we will see in the coming weeks, this will fit in with Matthew’s theme - that Jesus’ ministry is not only for those who are already righteous, but that it is, particularly, for those who aren’t. For those who are flawed. For this who are cunning and evil. For those who are weak-willed. For those who are misunderstood. For those who are broken.
For people like us. Because this is how God comes to us. God comes to us not through our perfect obedience, but through our brokenness. Through our deepest of flaws. God comes to us in grace.
There’s one more thing, though, according to Dr. Brown, for us to notice about Matthew’s genealogy. It’s to be found in the last list of fourteen. People like Azor, or Achim, or Eliud, or Eliezar, or even Mathan, who was, according to this list, the great grandfather of Jesus. None of these men are found in scripture. It is in this last list of fourteen that the message becomes most real for us. Because, if so much powerful stuff can have been accomplished through the hundreds and thousands of years by such rascals and outcasts, through people who were such a mixture of saint and sinner, and through people, like these last fourteen, who were completely unknown and obscure, how much more likely is it that God can use us? That God can use us and our gifts, in all of our strengths and weaknesses, to continue to share the promise first given to Abraham so many generations ago? Or that God is using us to pass on this promise?
This is where we continue the list, where we continue the list of the origin of Jesus: “Jesus called Peter and Paul...Paul called Timothy...Timothy called someone else...someone called your ancestor in the faith….your ancestor called you...now, you must call someone else.”
Go. Live into your family heritage. A heritage of passing on God’s promise. Amen.
Preached December 30, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Matthew 1:1-17; Psalm 132:11-12