Perhaps the gospel reading for today might seem a little dull. After all, a genealogy is hardly the liveliest of narratives (if I can even call it a narrative). We find, in Matthew’s gospel, a list of a great many men becoming the fathers of a great many sons, in succession from Abraham to Joseph.
Yet among those declarations that ‘x became the father of y, and y became the father of z‘, there are a few hints that between Abraham and Joseph some extraordinary things happened. Tamar (read about her in Genesis 38!) appears, although the tale is not one that reflects well on Judah. Foreigners Rahab (who hid the spies; see Joshua 2) and Ruth (who has a whole book for her biography) take their place also. And one of the most poignant narratives in the life of David is summed up in the mention of the one who ‘had been Uriah’s wife.’ And it’s not just about the women–though that would be enough to make the genealogy fascinating: Matthew’s gospel does not omit the mention of the long exile in Babylon. Not the most auspicious of lineages for the messiah–too many scandals entirely.
I heard this gospel read out after having arrived at Mass in quite a low mood. Maybe it’s just the woes of a mid-life flutter (not really a crisis): am I really doing anything with this life I have been given? Shouldn’t I somehow be doing more, making more of an impact on this needy and troubled world in which we live? Have I failed to do what I ought to have done with my first 40-odd years? And what can I possibly do in the next decades (God willing) that will make up for the sad lack of world-saving I have been doing? Pathetic, I know. But I suspect not unique.
And there was the answer, right there in the middle of an apparently boring genealogy. There is no failure that can thwart God’s salvation. The world-saving was never up to me, anyway (Deo gratias). It has been done by the one in whose lineage so many mistakes and disappointments appear. However much the people of God may have gone astray in the years before the coming of Christ, he still came. Nothing I can do or fail to do will undo the work of God’s eternal wisdom, who arranges all things delightfully (Wisdom 8:1). God will be all in all. My place in it must be small, but that does not mean that it has no significance. It just means that its meaning may well be hidden until the end of time.
As St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross wrote in Love of the Cross:
To suffer and to be happy although suffering, to have one’s feet on the earth, to walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly to sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels–this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.
And so it is. Bring on the dirt.