Jacob called his sons and said to them:
"Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob;
listen to Israel your father.
Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father's sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion's whelp;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,
like a lioness -- who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and the obedience of the peoples is his."
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
After the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
Matthew poses some questions about Jesus: Where has he come from? What is he here for? And ultimately, who is he, in relation to God and to mankind? His account opens with the genealogy, an ingenious reconstruction, based on a close reading of the Old Testament, to situate Jesus four-square at the heart of Israel's lineage. That it is an artistic, literary construct rather than a soberly factual genealogy, is strongly hinted by dividing the list neatly into three sets of fourteen generations -- one set, from the Founding Father (Abraham) to the heights of royal splendour (David, a man after God's heart); then one from the royal heights to the bitter depths of the Babylonian Captivity; finally, and this time with less guidance from the Old Testament, tracing his lineage from the Captivity down to Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.
While the mainline genealogy is counted from father to son, on the way, Matthew mentions some surprising women who were unexpectedly incorporated into the Messiah's lineage: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) -- all of whom prepare the reader for the ultimate surprise: Joseph is not really Jesus' father at all, since Mary has conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Where has he come from, then? Ultimately, and miraculously, from God; though also from Abraham and David, by indirect family links. Later, Matthew will answer his own other significant questions: What is he here for? And who is he? with one single phrase: Jesus is Emmanuel or God with us.
With the help of online genealogists, many of us have developed a new interest in tracing our family tree back through the generations. The TV programme "Who do you think you are?" has certainly revealed surprising ancestors for some of our well-known celebrities. Today we have perhaps the strangest gospel reading of the whole liturgical year. We might ask, "Why did the evangelist Matthew bother with that long list of forty two names?" But it was clearly important to communicate some sense of Jesus' family tree. There is an increasing interest in family trees in recent times. More and more people want to know their own background. "Who are the people who have helped to make me the person I am?" Each of us is very aware that the story of our ancestors is an important part of our own story. It is that part of our story which is below ground, like the roots of a tree.
St Matthew was very aware that the story of Jesus' ancestors was an important chapter in Jesus' own story. Jesus had parents, grandparents, great grandparents. Some of the people that Matthew mentions as part of Jesus' family tree were anything but saints. All shades of human nature were to be found there. Yet, God brought the Saviour of the world out of that very imperfect succession of people. There is hope in that realization, especially in these difficult days for the church. The Lord continues to bring good out of experiences that are tainted by sin and human failure. We need to keep on trusting that the Lord is always at work, even in situations that seem on the surface to be very unpromising.