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The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Romans 8:28–30 • Psalm 12(13) • Matthew 1:1–16, 18–23

Readers of the Bible are tempted to skip the first sixteen verses of Matthew’s Gospel.  After all, it’s just a long list of names!  Although, in recent years, there has been a renewed interest in tracing one’s family tree, genealogies are often viewed as superfluous by a generation that prides itself on being future-oriented and forward-looking. To ancient peoples, however, genealogies were of immense importance.  Genealogies were the means by which Bible- time Jews traced their ancestry right back to Abraham, thus reassuring themselves of their position as rightful heirs of God’s covenant promises.

Matthew’s opening phrase ‘An account of the genealogy...’ reads, literally, ‘the book of the genesis. . . ’ , an expression that echoes Genesis 2:4 in' the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and would have been very familiar to Matthew’s original readers.  By employing this phrase in connection with the Messiah, Matthew sets Jesus in the context of what God had been doing from the earliest days.

Matthew’s genealogy is constructed around three key periods in Israel’s history. Abraham and David recall two crucial covenants (Gen. 12:1ff; 2 Sam. 7:12ff) that significantly shaped Jewish identity.  The Babylonian Exile (referred to in yerses 1 1—12) called into serious question these covenant promises – since the land was lost and the House of David no longer ruled.  So, after their return from exile, the Jews eagerly awaited the coming of a Messiah who would fulfil the promises given to Abraham and David. Against this backdrop Matthew announces the ‘genesis’ of the one who would bnn'g to fruition these promises: .‘Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham’.

The genealogy climaxes with the mention of Joseph.  Tradition suggests that Mary, too, was of the House of David.  But since lineage was established by the male line, in order for Jesus to be proclaimed a true ‘son of David’ Joseph had formally to adopt him.  In verse 18, the word translated ‘birth’ is the same as that used in verse 1 (literally, ‘genesis’). The story that follows is not so much a birth story, but an extension of the genealogy which establishes Jesus’s rightful place in the messianic line.

‘At the foot of the cross Mary became our mother.  Just before he died, Jesus gave his mother to St John, and St John to his mother.  And so, all of us become her children.’  (St Theresa of Kolkata)

Chris

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