For freedom, Christ has set us free

Christmas Vigil Mass ABC
Gospel Commentary
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Gospel
Matt 1:1   An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Matt 1:2   Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,
7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

Matt 1:12   And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

Matt 1:17   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.

Matt 1:18   Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Initial observations

There is no doubt that the (optional) genealogy is disconcerting for the modern reader/listener. Nevertheless, by means of it, Matthew thought it important to embed the story of Jesus in the story of God’s first chosen people. It is likely that Matthew’s community had just broken away from “the synagogue.” At the same time, this community claimed to be in continuity with God’s past disclosure to the Jewish people, now brought to completion in Jesus the Messiah. In particular, the figure of Moses dominates Matthew’s presentation of Jesus.


Kind of writing
There are two kinds of writing, genealogy and annunciation. The annunciation type story shows this pattern:
  1. appearance of an angel;
  2. fear and/or prostration;
  3. reassurance (“do not fear”);
  4. message;
  5. objection;
  6. a sign is given
The pattern is familiar from the OT (Ishmael Gen 16:7-12, Isaac 17:1-21; 18:1-12; Samson Jdg 13:3-21) but is only partially present here.

Old Testament background

The broad Old Testament story is presented schematically using the device of fourteen generations, taking us for Abraham, through David and the Exile to the time of Jesus. Evidently, people were unaware in antiquity of ovulation. As a result, women were omitted from genealogies; this means that to include women is especially significant.
Tamar: Genesis 38
Rahab: Joshua 2-6
Ruth: the Book of Ruth
Wife of Uriah (Bethsheba): 2 Sam 11-12
All four are in some sense irregular, either sexually and/or as foreigners. They prepare for the great “irregularity” of the virginal conception and look forward, at the same time, to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the new covenant in Jesus. Sinners likeness have a role in God’s plan: three of women are technically sinners but so are lots of the men, such as David himself and Solomon.
(i) Joseph: the name Joseph reminds the aware bible reader of another Joseph in the book of Genesis.
(ii) Divorce was allowed by inference in Deut 24:1-4, although no biblical legislation formally permits it.
(iii) Son of David: the relationship with David immediately calls to mind the guarantee and promise to the house of David made by the prophet Nathan in 2 Sam 7 and the prayer version of it in Psalm 89.
(iv) Jesus is the Greek for Joshua, the name of Moses’ successor, who actually led the people into the promised land. The name comes Hebrew/Aramaic and means “YHWH is salvation” or “YHWH saves/has saved.”
(v) The promise in Isaiah 7:14 is read as a messianic prophecy. In its original context, this text promised a successor to King Ahaz, born in the normal way.
(vi) Communication in a dream: the clear prototypes are Jacob (and his famous ladder) and Joseph (with the coat of many colours).

New Testament foreground

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:16–20)

St Paul
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Rom 4:16–17)

Brief commentary

Because of the extended Old Testament background, only selected verses will be commented.
Verse 1 The first verse anticipates the three-fold pattern, pointing to Jesus.
Verse 6 People did look back on the time of David as a sort of golden age and many hopes were expressed using davidic imagery from the Psalms.
Verse 11 The Babylonian Exile was a watershed in the history and imagination of the Jewish people. It will be referred to again in the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2:17-18.
Verse 16 The pairing of a later Jacob with the later Joseph intentionally echoes the great patriarch, the father of the twelve sons of Jacob / twelve tribes of Israel.
Verse 17 The writer insistently draws our attention to the pattern of fourteen. The consonants of the name David had the numerical value of fourteen.
Verse 18 Mary was not descended from all these people but Joseph, as the legal father of Jesus, was. Betrothal was almost marriage; it is fitting, therefore, to talk of divorce. The virginal conception is found also in Luke’s account.
Verse 20 Do not be afraid is a key element in the Annunciation type-scene.
Verse 21 As explained above the name Jesus means YHWH saves. In antiquity, names were regarded as key to the person’s identity and mission (“nomen omen”).
Verses 22-23 Matthew peppers his account with fulfilment citations, of which this is the first. Originally, Is 7:14 (in Hebrew) meant that a wife in the royal family would have a baby in the usual way. Matthew choose the Greek OT (LXX) which speaks of a virgin conceiving, but again in the usual way. God-with-us will have a long echo in the Gospel.
V
erses 24-25 Joseph is always obedient (and silent) in Matthew 1-2.
Thus we learn that Jesus is descendent of David, he will save the people from their sins and will be God-with-us.


Pointers for prayer

1. Every family tree contains shadows, shadows which can overshadow later generations. What have you learned about yourself from your family history?
2. In the narrative, Joseph faces a very challenging situation with a combination of kindness and logic, only to have both sent aside by the surprise of God. Have you had that experience too?
3. God-with-us is a powerful expression, inviting me to reflect on my own experience of God with me in my life. Can I name any important moments of God’s presence?
4. Every birth is a blessing—even my own! Am I still a blessing to those around me?




Prayer

God of Abraham and Sarah, of David and his descendants, unwearied is your love for us and steadfast is your covenant; wonderful beyond words is your gift of the Saviour, born of the Virgin Mary.
Count us among the people in whom you delight, and by this nights’s marriage of earth and heaven draw all generations into the embrace of your love.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, in the splendour of eternal light, God for ever and ever. Amen.




Thought for the day

Tracing origins has always been of interest and nowadays it is possible to have a sample of your DNA tested to find out what kind of genetic mix you are. It can lead to surprises! Jesus also had shadows in his genealogy, as is normal. There is hope, too, in the ancestors: God can write straight with our crooked lines. The shadows are not simply in our past, somehow in others, but in each of us as well. But the great message of the Gospel is that our past does not always have to stalk us—there is total forgiveness and even amnesia in God: I, I am the one who blots out your rebellious deeds for my sake; your sins I do not remember. (Isa 43:25)

Prayer

Help us to accept from you, God, a new name, a new reality in Christ that we may know your forgiveness and love and be set free from our past sins and faults. Through Christ our Lord.