Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Sunday of Genealogy

Oh, no. Not THAT Sunday again.  Oh, yes, the Sunday before Nativity is when the priest reads the Gospel passage from that of St. Matthew detailing the 14 generations from Abraham to David, the 14 generations from David to the Babylonian Captivity and the 14 from the Babylonian Captivity to Christ's incarnation and birth.  As far as interesting goes, this is probably one of the few passages most people would skip over if they were to read the Gospel according to St. Matthew since it reads like a laundry list or grocery list.   Why do we bother with it?

Well, perhaps we should first ask why it was included in the narrative in the first place.  If anyone has any experience reading oral epic poems that were later written down, one would notice that lists are a trademark of that particular genre.  The lists serve any number of purposes.  For instance, in Book II of the Iliad, Homer gives the famous "Catalogue of Ships."  It details all the Greek heroes who came to Troy, in how many ships and where the Greek heroes came from.  A much shorter catalogue is given for the allies of the Trojans at the End of Book II. 

We must remember that our society is a text society; the ancient world was an oral society even if there were people who could both read and write, but the percentage has to be around 3-5% worldwide, if that.  Literature was recited and meant to be recited.  At great festal occasions like weddings, funerals, parties, epic poems or other oral poems were recited by professionals.  And these professionals were singing for a particular group of people who probably wanted to hear a particular story.  And since these events were family affairs, the family would want to hear tales which involved their family.  Thus, the catalogue of ships.  It is reasonable to assume that the famous Catalogue of Ships was recited to family who claimed lineage or kinship with the great heroes who fought at Troy.  It's no different from today when a person takes personal pride that his grandfather fought at Normandy or Kiev or the Battle of the Bulge or Iwo Jima or took part in the Doolittle raids.  These lists are meant to foster connection between the "mythic" world of the past and the current age now.

With Matthew's genealogy, we are meant to make connections between the God-Man Christ and his ancestors.  And this connection was one of blood.  Christ did not simply appear, but became Man taking on flesh, the flesh he received from his mother.  What's even more striking is that this list is not populated with necessarily the most outstanding pillars of virtue.  Let's look at a few.

Judah--After having become a widower, he indulged his lusts with a woman he thought was a prostitute, who turned out to be his daughter-in-law, Tamar.  When she was found to be pregnant, Judah ordered her execution only to find out that it was he who caused her pregnancy in the first place.  He spared her and realized his own sin.

David--David was both an adulterer and a murderer.  Wanting to take Bathsheeba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, for his own, he ordered Uriah into a battle which he had little chance of surviving so that Bathsheeba would be his.  Eventually, he would repent of his lust and his murder and this comes down to us in Psalm 50 (51).

Manasses--The Assyrians had destroyed the Kingdom of Israel years before so only Manasses' kingdom of Judah remained.  In his role as king, he undid the reforms of his father, Hezekiah and re-instituted pagan worship and idolatry.  Later, he repented of his and was forgiven.  The Prayer of Manasses, used by the Orthodox at Great Compline, is his prayer of repentance.

Jechonias--His reign and his sins were so bad that there was no longer a Kingdom of Judah as he and the Jews were carried off to Babylon.  Because of him, God cursed him and swore that no one borne of Jechonias' line would ever sit on the throne of Israel.

This is just a small sample.  Of course, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob did some pretty bad things, too.  The point is that Jesus' ancestors were not great pillars of virtue and fear of God.  They were idolaters, lustful for power, women, murderers, etc. And yet, Jesus was pleased to be born of this line.

St. Gregory the Theologian remarked that "anything unassumed by Christ [in His Incarnation] is unhealed."  Christ came into this world from family that was wounded by many sins, mortally wounded.  The Irmoi of several canons state that the Lord appeared NOT as an angel NOR as an ambassador but incarnate of the Virgin.    He is one of us; He is not mere human but entirely human. We are the mere humans,  mere likenesses to humanity and corrupted.  If Christ could come from the most sinful among us and still carry flesh uncorrupted by sin, which he would redeem by His coming, His death, His Resurrection and His Ascension, then the battle against the flesh which we wage every day should be winnable because of what He did and what He was up against.

The Sunday of Genealogy is more than just names. It reveals why God had to become incarnate and not just appear:  To save everyone from all sins which had been committed since the beginning.

No comments:

Post a Comment