1:1. The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.
a) Matthew begins his Gospel with two words that are rich in significance and meaning: biblos geneseos; book of genesis. As with another Evangelist, Saint John, Matthew introduces us to the history and mystery of Christ, the Son of God, through a reference back to the very beginning of history: to the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. John draws a direct parallel through numerous verbal connections and similar themes: “In the beginning…” “light…darkness,” “water,” “creation,” etc. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). He seeks to show, in this way, the presence of the eternal Word from the very beginning of time, and before the beginning of time: this Word who is none other than the only-begotten Son of the Father, in whom and through whom the universe was created, and who became flesh at the fullness of history in order to redeem sinful and wayward humanity. In his own Gospel, however, Matthew approaches the reality differently; he approaches from within the very current of human history, from the midst of human begetting and birth that marks our life in this world. He shows that the “genesis” of Jesus Christ, while in his divine personhood being from the eternal Father from all eternity, also becomes a “genealogy” from human paternity, or at least occurs in the context of it and as its fulfillment (as we will soon see, he himself is not “begotten” or “fathered” by a man, but conceived virginally by the power of the Holy Spirit).
The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ is, in fact, the fulfillment of that long historical trajectory that began with the “book of genesis” millennia ago. And it stands right in the line begun then by the first coming-together of Adam and Eve as one flesh, and the birth of their child. And every human begetting, every human conception, is a manifestation of that first genesis in which God, the eternal Father, in his only-begotten Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit, brought the whole of creation into existence. God’s abundant love, which births his creative activity, is the source and origin of all human fruitfulness and creativity. In Greek, indeed, the connection is obvious: the verb for “begot” or “fathered” is egenesen, as in Abraam egenesen ton Isaak. “Abraham fathered Isaac” (1:2). God, the ultimate Origin of all things, who for all eternity begets a single Son in the peaceful bliss of the divine life, loves his creation so much, and man and woman within it, created in his image and likeness, that he wills this same Son to be begotten, fathered, into the heart of time and space. He wills for his eternal Son to take his place also in the midst of the flowing current of history, in the line of “fathering” that commenced with the beginning of the human drama. Indeed, he inserts his own fathering into this genealogical line, by sending the Spirit to overshadow the Blessed Virgin, so that his own Son would be conceived in her and born of her, and be entrusted into the care of a human woman and man, Mary and Joseph.
A final point. As surprising as it may be, God cherishes all the “stuff” of creation much more than we ourselves do. He loves every creature, and every aspect of reality, with more ardor, depth, and closeness than human persons do, and he does so without the obscuring, disorder, or imbalance that we are inclined to because of sin. Whenever God chose to enter, through his Son, into the current of human begetting and birth, he could have chosen to do so in a purely spiritual way, without “dirtying” himself with the flesh. He could have miraculously appeared at the heart of the Holy Family, with radiant signs as to his identity (perhaps we wish he did). He could, indeed, have come forth fully as man, and skipped all the obscurity, poverty, humility, and littleness of the first thirty years of his life.
But this is not his way. He has wedded himself to everything that is ours, affirming, cherishing, and sanctifying it from within. He sanctifies the womb of the Virgin, and her birth canal; he sanctifies her breasts, and her arms, and her face which he covers in kisses. He sanctifies Joseph, his foster father, in all that constitutes him as a man, as a husband and father, virginally fulfilled. He sanctifies the home of Nazareth, the land of Galilee, the whole of Israel, and indeed the entire world. He sanctifies hunger and thirst, labor, rest, recreation, play; he sanctifies eyes that gaze upon a human face, upon the horizon bathed in the setting sun, and ears that listen to the multiplicity of sounds, and God’s own voice within them; and taste and smell that savor the nourishment and odor provided by God; and touch that enters into contact, into communion, through the sacrament of the flesh.
Even when he teaches us the truths of God, Jesus does so not so much with abstract ideas or concepts (even though these aid in and protect true understanding, born as they are, ultimately, from incarnate contact with reality); he does so above all with incarnate images themselves, with parables and examples, with the visceral feelings born of human experience. Yes, and he sanctifies even our humiliation and suffering, sanctifies even our afflictedness by evil, opening up at the very heart of his own suffering and death a redeeming space in which God kisses humanity anew, loving us in our woundedness and our beauty. And in this kiss of God upon our humanity, we are, little by little, made whole.