Today we have the wonderful genealogy from the Gospel of St Matthew, with a list of names. The great significance is that Matthew lists “the ladies”, as Raymond Brown calls them in his epochal work, Birth of the Messiah. Too often the genealogy is ignored in preaching, and the names mangled when chanted by a cleric who failed to prepare himself.
The ladies are all important in salvation history. God is very selective in whom He chooses – Matthew emphasizes that by saying “Jechoniah and his brethren” – it is Jechoniah who matters, not the rest of the clan. Moving beyond St Jerome, who thought that the women are there because they are all sinners, and Luther, who emphasized their foreign origins or connections, Brown came up with this proposal (see pages 71 ff in his book):
-there is something extraordinary in their union with their partners, unions which, though scandalous at the time,” continued the blessed lineage of the Messiah”;
-“they took initiative or played an important role in God’s plan and came to be considered the instrument of God’s providence of of His Holy Spirit”
Tamar – her husband died without children to pray for his soul, and her father in law failed to arrange another marriage for her; so she disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced Judah, then nine months later presents him with her son;
Rahab – the prostitute who hid the spies in her house in Jericho and so saved her entire household from massacre because they agreed to worship the Lord God, thus allowing Israel to enter the Holy Land and she became the wife of Salmon;
Ruth- the son of Salmon, Boaz, took this Moabite woman as his wife, though Moabites were cursed “unto the seventh generation” – basically for all time;
Bathsheba – pregnant as a result of her adultery with David, and her son would become Solomon the wisest king of Israel.
As for our Lady, the Virgin Mary, Brown writes: in the eyes of men, her pregnanchy was a scandal since she had not lived with her husband (:18); yet the child was acutally begotten through the Holy Spirit , so that God had intervened to baring to fulfillment the messianic heritage” and in this instance God intervenes in the most dramatic way of all: “He overcomes the total absence of the Father’s begetting.”
And indeed Luther had a good idea: the women cited are all foreigners, and Matthew’s gospel is concerned with the Gentile nations. The Messiah Who comes from this genealogy through the legal role of Joseph as his foster father will reach out to all the Gentiles to bring them into the house of His Father.
For us: Nothing can block the action of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. Not race, or clan, or ethnicity, or wealth, or power, or poverty – God will act where He wants to, as long as we open ourselves to Him. One message of Christmas should be that – the Infant King wants to rule our hearts, but we must open them first!
From Vespers: The Never-setting Sun is coming from the virginal womb to enlighten everyone under the sun. Let us meet Him with pure hearts and with good works. let us prepare ourselves now through the Holy Spirit to greet Him Who is coming to His won people as He Himself had willed. He is being born in Bethlehem so that through His compassion He might bring back all of those who were exiled from Paradise!