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, who bore Jesus, 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.
The entire New Testament begins with these first few verses of the Gospel According to Matthew. Thrilling reading, huh? They read like the pages of a telephone book, that is, if you know what a telephone book is. Long lists of names. And in the case of this long list, the names are hard to pronounce. A true wonder is how anyone ever gets past the first few verses of the New Testament. The list is a genealogy running from Abraham to Jesus.
Take note of a few things right away. First, it is mostly names of men. Lots of men. As if the whole of the people of Israel were just men. There are a few exceptions, however, that are worthy of attention. The women named are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Mary. The stories of these women are well worth a full study themselves. Note, in particular, Ruth is not an insider, but a foreigner, an immigrant, who becomes the grandmother of King David, the prototype of a King of Israel.
Second, to notice is the central place the Babylonian exile plays. It is a pivot point, a spot in the history of Israel where things change in fundamental ways. In the history of Israel, the Babylonian exile ends the period of Israel as just a nation like other nations and begins the period of understanding themselves as a people and not just a nation. It also intensifies the desire for the coming of a Messiah.
Third to notice is the genealogy of Jesus is the genealogy of the Messiah. In the Gospel of Matthew, the importance of Jesus as the Messiah is central. Jesus is not simply a man, or a rabbi, or a moral example, he is the anointed one of God who ushers in a new age. Jesus is the bearer of a new history, but a history built on the hopes and dreams of all those who have come before.
The themes from these first few verses suggest larger matters for deeper reflection, but at their most basic they say that the gospel, which is the good news of Jesus, is rooted in history and open to a hopeful future.
Any hopeful future that does not account for the “hopes and fears of all the years,” runs the risk of pie in the sky optimism and not actual hope. Actual hope needs to be rooted in the things that have long mattered to the people of God. By the same token, a hopeful future that is trapped in the heaviness of history, a future that is little more than more of the same reheated, is not hopeful at all.
When the church has confessed Jesus as the Messiah, it has meant that the promises of God for homes and freedom and fairness and fruitfulness are “met in thee.” The promise of God to Abraham, that he would be fruitful and multiply and God would be with him and the generations to follow, still hold fast in Jesus. The promise of God to Ruth, that even though some consider her an outsider, nothing but a Moabite woman, God would consider her worthy of full acceptance into the family of God, even to the extent that she would be a bearer of kings. This promise still holds fast in Jesus. The promise of God to David, that God’s steadfast love would not be taken away, from him or the generations to follow. That promise still holds fast in Jesus. The promise of God to the exiles that they are not forgotten, nor is God finished with them. The promise that they will go out with joy and be led forth in peace. This promise still holds fast in Jesus. The promise to Mary, that she need not fear, because God is with her, Immanuel, this promise still holds fast in Jesus.
These few verses in the opening of the Gospel of Matthew connect Jesus to this rich, full complicated history. But more than this, they announce that in Jesus, God is doing a new thing. In Jesus, God is opening the promises to the whole world. In Jesus, God is opening the promises to us, sitting here near the end of the first quarter of the 21st Century. In Jesus, God promises that we are a part of a people and not just part of nation. In Jesus, God promises that no matter what puts us on the outside, we are now at the center of all God offers. In Jesus, God promises us that God’s love will not let us go, it will remain steadfast. In Jesus, God promises us that even when all falls apart, it is not the end. In Jesus, God promises us that we need not fear, because God is with us, Immanuel.
Reflect on being rooted in the long line of women and men who have trusted in God’s promises. Give thanks that these promises are not over, but still hold fast for us today.
Prayer: God, we pray that we may be bearers of your God history with the world. We pray that we may be faithful stewards of the promises you make for the future. Whenever we fear, remind us again, that we have come a mighty long way. Whenever we worry, remind us that you have not given up on us. We pray in the strong name of Jesus, who we know to be Immanuel, God with us, even us, today, here, now. Amen