The Family Tree of Jesus - Saint and Sinner

Homily for December 17th

by Fr. Tommy Lane

St. Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus butheewas the legal father. Therefore we talk of the genealogy or family tree in today’s Gospel (Matt 1:1-17) as the genealogy or family tree of Jesus. The genealogy of Jesus is a mixed bag. Jesus’ ancestors are not admirable, some are scoundrels. Just like us, Jesus has no control over his ancestry. We could say that sinless Jesus is like his brothers, as we read in Hebrews 2:17.was the legal father. Therefore we talk of the genealogy or family tree in today’s Gospel (Matt 1:1-17) as the genealogy or family tree of Jesus. The genealogy of Jesus is a mixed bag. Jesus’ ancestors are not admirable, some are scoundrels. Just like us, Jesus has no control over his ancestry. We could say that sinless Jesus is like his brothers, as we read in Hebrews 2:17.

The first third of the genealogy lists the patriarchs or fathers of the Hebrews. Abraham is a man of faith in Genesis although he was disbelieving when he first heard of the birth of Isaac (Gen 17:15-17). Jacob tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright (Gen 25:29-34; Gen 27). Yet he also had his goodness, e.g. his humble prayer in Gen 32:10. That God chose Jacob instead of his brother Esau, and Judah (who sold his brother and sought out prostitutes) instead of his brother Joseph shows that God frequently does not choose those who are the best from the human point of view.

The second third of the genealogy lists kings. The monarchy went downhill. It went from possessing the land to losing it in the exile 587-538 BC. Each king on the throne of David was to be a reminder of God’s covenant. Of the 14 mentioned by Matthew only two, Hezekiah and Josiah, could be considered to be obedient to God’s law in Deuteronomy.

In the third group of fourteen generations only the first two, Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, and the last two, Joseph and Mary, are known from history. In other words the others did nothing significant in history. If the kings allowed God’s people to sink, it was unknown people, presumably also a mixture of saint and sinner who helped to restore God’s people.

Four women are included, three of whom are named, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba is not named but mentioned as “Uriah’s wife” in 1:6, showing that it is no ordinary genealogy. There is something not regular about the relationship of each of them with her spouse. One reason why Matthew could have included these four women is that they were Gentiles either by birth or through marriage. Tamar, Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles by birth. Bathsheba, an Israelite, became Gentile through her marriage to Uriah, the Hittite. That is most likely why she is not mentioned by name, but as Uriah’s wife. Matthew probably wanted to broaden the perspective of his Gospel to show that Jesus had Gentile as well as Jewish ancestors.

The story before Jesus was one of a mixture of saints and sinners, so also is the story since Jesus, e.g. Peter who denied Jesus and Paul who persecuted Jesus by persecuting Christians. The story since Jesus in every age is a mixture of saint and sinner. God can write straight with crooked lines and some of those crooked lines are our lives. God is humble enough to work with whom he can. Church’s leaders are not perfect because in a sense the Church is the continuation of the genealogy. The last third of the genealogy contains people who are unknown, a sign to us that we too like them can continue the story of Jesus even if unknown.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.