Matthew’s gospel opens innocently enough:
“1A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
7Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
8Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
14Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Eliud,
15Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.“
..But when we look closer we instantly realize that Matthew’s opening words really are not at all “tame”, for Matthew is making the claim that in Jesus a brand new creation is afoot. “Record of the genealogy” is quite literally (in Greek) “Biblos Geneseos”, which a way of calling to mind the dramatic activity of the Creator God “in the beginning” who took the madness of pre-creation chaos and turned it into something good. Matthew wants us to know that his book will be a “book of the genesis” of Jesus Christ, in whom and through whom God is “making all things new”, to use Paul’s language. God’s Sabbath rest is now upon us.
Yet if that were all Matthew wanted to say, he would not have needed to include this extensive, belabored genealogy. Mark didn’t. John didn’t. Matthew didn’t have to. Or did he? Perhaps in the genealogy Matthew wants us to understand something of the character of the God who is now acting in Jesus Christ. Perhaps the genealogy is a clue to Matthew’s understanding of “His”-story, God’s story – which is to say our past and our future.
And indeed when we begin to peer into the genealogy, that is exactly what comes into focus. There are a handful of “saints” to be sure: Abraham, Hezekiah, Josiah, etc. But more often than not we meet less-than-savory, even dastardly folk. The conniving Jacob, the murderous Judah and his brothers, some disreputable women, a murdering, sexually promiscuous king (David), a litany of evil kings culminating in a handful of nondescript rulers who preside over the final demise of Judah, and a whole list of “no-names” leading up to the birth of the Messiah. Some family. And yet – all of them integral to the Divine Plan.
And even more, what is interesting is that Matthew seems to have an interesting understanding of how God works his divine plan. For Matthew, being an inconspicuous “outsider” may not count AGAINST your being used in marvelous ways by God; and being a deeply connected, entrusted-with-power “insider” may not count FOR you.
I grew up in a small town in central Wisconsin. My grandparents and extended family were farmers and blue-collar folk, for the most part. No presidents in my past. No senators. No statesmen. Heck, no doctors, no lawyers, and as far as I knew, almost no one with a college degree.
When I graduated and went to a prominent Christian college in the Midwest, I quickly became aware of the “inconspicuousness” of my past. There I met a good deal of students whose dads’ were so-and-so, who’s grandfathers’ were such-and-such, who had walked the royal halls of Christendom and were deeply enmeshed in it’s flows of power. I was not connected. And neither were my parents. “Internationally unknown” as one person put it. It made me feel awkward.
One day, griping to God about all of this as well as about all the quirks and idiosyncrasies which I felt God had unnecessarily “blessed” me with, I remember hearing the voice of God in my soul, saying, “Andrew, don’t you think I knew about all of that when I called you? Those things will only limit you if you let them.”
“Don’t you think I knew about all of that when I called you…?” As college progressed, it was fascinating to watch how many of the deeply “connected” people faded into obscurity, while many of the “outsiders” were precisely the ones God used. People who came in with no standing, no “name”, no power; those were the ones God exalted. Weird. But it’s just the way this “odd God” works.
I’ve walked with this “odd God” long enough now to know by experience what Matthew tries to teach us in the genealogy: that the people who wind up on the “right side” of history are not always the ones we’d expect. Not the powerful or influential, not the connected or “money-ied”; in fact, those folks often wind up on the WRONG side of history. (It’s not by accident that Matthew makes the “kings of Israel” culpable for the disgusting slide into exile.) More often than not, it’s the “meek” who “inherit the earth”; the ones who, Mary, in unassuming trust receive from God’s hand the “moments” that are given to them, and watch as their lives get taken up into the Divine Story; who somehow in so doing put the Sabbath-rest that is Jesus’ Advent on display.
If you’re unknown, unheard-of, inconspicuous
If you’re not powerful, not rich, not connected
If you’re name isn’t in the headlines, and there are no senators or statesmen in your lineage
Don’t fret: You may just be in the center of God’s will for the human race; an important link in the chain of God’s saving purposes for the whole world.
So be of good cheer, even if your grandfather’s name is Zadok.