1* THE book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3* and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, * 4 and Ram * the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa, * 8 and Asa * the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, * and Amos * the father of Josiah, 11* and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of She-alti-el, * and She-alti-el * the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
“My Beloved!” cries the bride in the Song of Songs. She speaks to her Spouse, who is also her God. But what gives her the courage to speak in this way, what gives her the boldness, the confident audacity, to address the everlasting Creator of heaven and earth, the almighty Father, the infinite Majesty, as her intimate friend, the companion of her heart, the husband of her soul? It is only because God has addressed her first, calling to her in her waywardness, and has gradually addressed her, more and more explicitly, in words of intimate love: “Come to me, my love, my dove, my beautiful one.” He has revealed himself as Husband, and has revealed her to herself, thus, as the bride, as one who is always loved and pursued, and who, in being touched by the Love that is his, the Love that he is, is awakened to pursuit in response, is awakened to longing for the One who is the Thirst of Love himself.
What does all of this have to do with the genealogy that commences the Gospel according to Matthew? A great deal, actually. For in this long list of names, we are seeing played out before us the very history of the Bride, this Bride who is the communal people of Israel, on the verge of being consummated as the Church, in whom each one of us is also a spouse, each one of us precious and unrepeatable. Spouse? Yes. Spouse. Friend. Brother. Sister. Son. Daughter. All of these, in a fullness that surpasses our wildest imaginings and deepest hopes. Our communion with God, the communion he desires to establish with us in Jesus Christ, surpasses all of these categories while also super-fulfilling them in utter abundance. And thus the words with which we began are indeed perhaps the best, the spontaneous cry of the heart: “My Beloved!” And indeed, there is another reason for quoting them here, at the beginning of these reflections on Matthew’s Gospel. For the word Beloved, as used in the Song of Songs, is also the name for the king of Israel, the king of promise: David. “My David!” “My Beloved!” And on closer inspection, Matthew’s genealogy is centered around the name of David, which has a numerical number of fourteen (perhaps hard for us to understand since words no longer have numerical value in our language): and there are fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the deportation to Babylon, and fourteen generations to the Christ. David, David, David, here comes the Son of David, the true King of Kings, the one promised to have a reign universal in scope and endless in duration.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a step back and begin anew. A single glance at the Old Testament shows that the Jews placed a great deal of emphasis on the importance of genealogy. This is because, from the beginning, God’s covenant was mediated through the line of blood, and an individual was a part of the chosen people through being a descendant of those who had first received the covenant. After all, God created us as a family, indeed a universal family of brothers and sisters populating a single earth. And yet from the beginning of history, with the infidelity of our first parents, Adam and Eve, the unity of this family was fractured and divided. Only over time would it be restored. This is the significance of God’s gradual covenant-making with a single people, the people who would come to be called “Israel,” and in our day are usually called simply the “Jews.” Indeed, the Jewish people are our elder brothers and sisters in faith, the first children of Abraham and the original adherents to the God of the Covenant. Christian are all, truly, “spiritual semites.” In other words, we are in the line of those who “bear the name” of God’s covenant (shem, the origin of semitic, means “name,” and refers to those in the line of Shem, a son of Noah). We all stand in the line of Seth, son of Adam and Eve, in the line of Noah, saved in the ark from the flood, in the line of Abraham, to whom God promised that he would make his children more numerous than the stars of the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore, and in whom the whole earth would find blessing. We are all children of Israel, through the redeeming grace of Christ, for Isaac sprang from Abraham, and Israel (Jacob) from Isaac; and from Israel came the twelve tribes, of whom was David the King, of whom was Jesus Christ.
Yes, we are worshipers of the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ,” as Blaise Pascal deliciously put it. In other words, we stand in the heart of the religion of God’s self-disclosure to humanity. Unlike other religions which are manifestations of man’s search for the divine, whether through philosophical thought, ritual practice, ascetical discipline, or mystical inclination, Judaism and Christianity are the religions of God’s search for humanity, of God’s covenant love for the human family and, indeed, for each human heart. This has so many, many implications, but it first of all means that God is a God of Love, a God who elicits, pursues, cherishes, protects, and espouses. This is the God who is gradually unveiled to us, more and more clearly, in the pages of Sacred Scripture, culminating in the definitive and final revelation brought in Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal Father conceived and born as man through the power of the Holy Spirit. Here the inner heart of God is unveiled before us, in mystery but in truth, as an everlasting communion of three divine Persons, eternally one and yet eternally distinct, one through love and yet unique through love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Lover, Beloved, and the Love who unites them, the Love born of and sealing their union. From the heart of the Trinity all of creation, and the whole history of God’s dealings with humanity, have been born. From his activity we can trace the lines back to his inner mystery, to who he is in himself in the hidden interior of his own eternal life. And yet, after this revelation is granted to us, we can “re-read” the whole of history, both in its broadest brush-strokes as well as in its minutest details, in the light of who God is: in the light of his everlasting love and intimacy as Trinity, and his desire to incorporate us into his life, to grant us a share in his own way of living and loving for all eternity.
What a blessed creation! What a blessed destiny! This is the heart of biblical revelation, and the true meaning of Christian religion. The cliché statement made so often today, “God desires us to have relationship, not religion,” entirely misses the point of this. Religion is relationship; religion, by definition, is the nature of our relationship with God, and God has provided us with the very contours and safeguard of that relationship, with the path back to him. For the path that we take back to God is the path that he first took in coming to us. And this is a path of rich, incarnate, human life, permeated in all things by God’s presence and guidance, irradiating our whole life with a new meaning and transforming even the smallest aspects of society and culture in the light of the newness brought by him. Yes, and this includes those elements of “religion” that we are so inclined to reject in our contemporary climate: institution, organized worship, a written moral law, rich traditions of human thought seeking to serve and express the divine mystery, charity and solidarity binding us all together as brothers and sisters, co-responsible and indeed co-experiencing, in the single family of humanity and the single Body of Christ.
And yet all of this is not an “achievement” on the part of human effort, a means of convincing God of our good-will. It is not a way of justifying ourselves before God, somehow blotting out our own sins by our own efforts or crossing over the gap between ourselves and the divinity by any human means. No, the point being made here is precisely that, as the religion of God’s initiative, Christianity is through and through, in every detail, a matter of receptivity to love, and of grateful responsiveness to this love. From our acceptance of the person of Christ unveiled to us in the words of Scripture, to our grateful welcoming of the abundant light and clarity that the teaching of the Church gives to us, to our acceptance of the lived-experience of the sacraments that communicate God’s life to us in incarnate touch, in Body and Blood present as bread and wine, in new life given through water and words, in forgiveness mediated through human voice, in oil and anointing bestowing abundant gifts of the Spirit: in all of this, Christianity is truly a religion of intimate love. It is a bridal religion, a religion in which, in every detail and at every moment, we are taught to feel and to say, “My Beloved!”, but even more deeply, to hear God saying unceasingly to us, “My beloved!” and to welcome his approach, as he comes to cherish us, to touch us, to heal us, to transform us in his own image and likeness unto the fullness of sanctity, and to unite us perfectly to himself.