Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
The Gospel for December 17 and for the Vigil Mass on December 24 is the very first verses of St. Matthew's Gospel – a genealogy of Jesus Christ. Some think of this Gospel passage as a challenge to read without mistakes, a veritable Biblical obstacle course. Others think of it as a rather prosaic beginning to the Gospel, verses that tempt the reader to skip ahead to the meat of the story.
Because most pastors will celebrate the "Mass at Midnight" rather than the Vigil Mass on the evening of December 24, this Gospel passage is infrequently heard by the worshipping community. That's a pity. St. Matthew traces Jesus back to Abraham in this condensed version of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is highly symbolic (14 generations each of patriarchs, kings, and common folk). However, it also speaks volumes about God's choice in sending Jesus among us, for the genealogy tells us quite a bit about Jesus.
First of all, Jesus' origin, like ours, includes sinners. Indeed, David is mentioned in the genealogy, and he was guilty of two sins that could be called heinous. He made sure that Uriah was killed in battle after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Tamar and Rahab, both mentioned in the patriarch section, were prostitutes.
Bathsheba, Tamar and Rahab are also unconventional inclusions in a Jewish genealogy. Women were not usually included in such listings. The mindset of the Jews at this time was that the male implanted the embryo in the woman's womb, fully and completely human already. They knew nothing of genes and chromosomes and did not realize that both the male and the female contribute genetic material that results in an embryo. This is why it was always considered the woman's burden if no children were born to the couple; consequently, the woman was called barren, unable to nourish the seed that the male had planted.
Finally, it needs to be said that the genealogy is a record of failure. Each of the three sections – patriarchs and matriarchs, kings, and common folk – present us with people who were not the sterling examples of success that one would produce a Messiah.
Yet, therein lies the mystery. These frail human specimens mentioned in Matthew's genealogy produced a man who succeeded through failure. By accepting our human weakness, Jesus offered a sacrifice that opened the gates of heaven for all of us, no matter how frail, no matter how insignificant we may be.