“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Jesus in the Gospel of Mark seems to appear out of nowhere. The story begins, “The good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” The story begins so immediately that the opening verse is an incomplete sentence. Jesus appears, in mystery, as the Son of God. The audience is not told from where Jesus came, or where he was born. Jesus’ roots outside of his connection as the Son of God do not seem to matter to Mark, at least, not at the beginning. Matthew begins his Gospel quite differently. Whereas in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is Son of God, Matthew begins by telling us that Jesus is the son of David and the son of Abraham. Matthew frames Jesus in a real time and a real place, beginning with a family tree and then a story about Jesus’ parents and miraculous birth. For Matthew, Jesus’ history is important because it is the very story of God.
A genealogy can reveal a great deal about who you are today. There is an entertaining television program on TLC called, “Who do you think you are,” which invites the audience to follow a celebrity in discovering his or her family tree. Sometimes heroic figures in the heritage offer a pleasant surprise. Other times it can be embarrassing knowing to whom you are related. For example, my wife Christie is a descendent of King Charlemagne who was the first Holy Roman Emperor. The most well known celebrity in my family tree is Jesse James, the outlaw. Suffice it to say, I married up. Matthew wants us to know from where Jesus came, not only so we know that Jesus was real and walked the earth, but Matthew is showing us that God has been working on salvation for a long, long time.
Matthew divides Jesus’ genealogy into three sections. The first section goes from Abraham to David, which is a story of great victory. It begins with faithful Abraham who leaves his family behind to walk with God, and God blesses Abraham with the blessing of countless generations. It ends with King David, the one who united Israel under one flag, the great poet king who fell Goliath and laid the political foundation for the first Temple in Jerusalem. How victorious a lineage! But the victory parade is short-lived for the next section of ancestors ends with King Jechoniah in defeated exile. From Charlemagne to Jesse James, from a united Israel to a hopeless, wandering people. Remembering the exile reminds us that Jesus is related to some less-than-desirables: Jacob the scoundrel, Tamar the prostitute, Ahaziah the murderer, or as Herbert McCabe puts it, “He belonged to a family of murderers, cheats, cowards, adulterers and liars—he belong to us, and came to help us. No wonder he came to a bad end [to] give us hope.”
But the story doesn’t end in exile. The story continues, and this is the good news. The first section is a story of triumph. The second section is a story of embarrassing defeat. The third section is a story of salvation. In life there are victories and there are defeats. Ultimately God’s story is about salvation. God’s story does not end in a palace. If it had, God’s story would be one of upward mobility and the defeat of foreign nations, a God whom we would we would only worship when we win. Neither does God’s story end in exile. If it had we would worship a God who allows unfettered human free will to direct the course of history. But no, God’s story points to salvation. God puts on flesh, the flesh of kings and scoundrels, walks among us to show us how to live, dies on a cross to show us how to die, and lives again to show us that this story of victory and defeat we call life, ends in Resurrection.
Mark tells you from the very beginning that Jesus is the Son of God. Matthew, on the other hand, makes you earn it. In the beginning Matthew says that Jesus is the son of David, son of Abraham. Jesus is the son of David revealing a royal line, but he is also the son of Abraham, which means that he will carry wood upon his back and be bound on the top of a mountain. By saying that Jesus is son of David, son of Abraham, means that Jesus is a king who will suffer, or as Stanley Hauerwas writes, “Matthew’s gospel is meant to train us, his readers, just as Jesus had to train his disciples, to recognize that the salvation wrought in the cross is the Father’s refusal to save us according to the world’s understanding of salvation, which is that salvation depends on having more power than my enemies” (Hauerwas, Gospel of Matthew, 27). This genealogy, this bulleted story of victory, defeat, and salvation prepares us for what is said at the foot of the cross—“Now when the centurion and those with him who were keeping watch over Jesus, say the earthquake and what took place [on the cross], they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son.’” Victory, defeat, Salvation. Son of David, Son of Abraham, twenty 25 chapters later . . . Son of God.
A genealogy reveals to whom we are connected, whose blood we have inherited. One day Jesus was sitting with some disciples and his mother and brothers had come to collect him. Jesus looked at the crowd and said, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers and sisters, but those who do will of my father.” It is a word of profound acceptance. Jesus is standing before a gathering of people who may have no family. Their parents are gone. They have no siblings. Certainly in Jesus’ time, if you had no family you were utterly alone. Jesus looks at them and says, “You are my family. Not kings or rules or the successful or the powerful. I know I am the son of David and the Son of Abraham, but I choose you.” Not only is this radical acceptance, but it also is a call to action—“Those who do the will of my Father.” What are we “passing along” to this generation of the church, and what are we “passing down” to the next generation of the church. It is true that you inherit DNA from your parents, but the way that DNA is communicated in your body changes depending on behavior. Not to chase this rabbit too far, but when two people love each other very much, there is an information exchange. Not only does a parent pass along DNA, but they pass along a snapshot of behavior. When we enter the church, we inherit a Tradition, a DNA thousands of years old, but the way that DNA is communicated depends on the behavior of the community. How are we offering Christ? What are we saying about Christ when we serve? What are we saying about Christ when we don’t?
My children often use me as a jungle gym, and I admit that it is not may favorite parental responsibility. Just yesterday I was sitting down and Annaleigh came up to me and started pulling on my ear. My first reaction was to shoo her away—“Stop it.” She kept right on tugging at my ear. “Stop it!” Then she stood up eye level with me, tugged at my ear and said, “Daddy, I love you.” I almost shooed that away. It was a moment for me, not only because my daughter said “I love you,” but that I almost missed it. My behavior almost turned something very good, “off.”
“An account of the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham.” It is a family history of victory, defeat, and ultimately, salvation. Through Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection, Christ offers a salvation stronger than the blood that runs through our own veins. It is radical acceptance and a call to action to do the will of God so that this generation and generations to come to know and life the good news of God’s love. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.