CHRIST COMES TO HEAL OUR FAMILY TREE


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GENESIS 49:2, 8-10; MATTHEW 1:1-17 ]

Today, we enter into the Octave before Christmas.  Eight days from now, we will celebrate the birth of Christ.  The liturgy therefore takes pain to prepare us for His birth by tracing the family tree of Jesus.  In the gospel, we read the long genealogy of Christ’s ancestry.   At first glance, it seems to be a list of boring and uninspiring names, many of whom we do not have much inkling of their roles and importance in salvation history.  Furthermore, some of the names, especially the kings, were surely not good examples of fidelity to the Lord.  Rahab, Manasseh and Ahaz were of dubious character. Rahab was a prostitute.  Bathsheba the wife of Uriah was an adulterer.  Ahaz was a wicked king and brought paganism into the country and God’s judgment as well.  Of course, among the list, there were great people like Abraham, Ruth and David.

Secondly, we are told that from Judah, the most insignificant and smallest tribe among the Twelve, would come the Messiah.  Jacob prophesied, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you: you grip your enemies by the neck, your father’s sons shall do you homage … The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the mace from between his feet, until he come to whom it belongs, to whom the peoples shall render obedience.”

What lessons can we draw from scripture? Firstly, that like Jesus, our family tree is not perfect.  It is significant that He came from a line of broken people.  In other words, He did not have a perfect family tree.  We too should not be ashamed of ourselves when we go through our family history.  As we reflect on our family tree, we should not be surprised that we too have some family members who committed shameful crimes and sins.  But we too will find some exemplary relatives who have given hope and pride to the family.  Instead of hiding from the fact that not all members of the family are doing well or have done well, let us accept the reality of sin and brokenness in our lives.  In every family there are skeletons. There are some who are regarded as the black sheep of the family.  Sometimes, it is so difficult to admit that not all our family members are living good and happy lives.  The failure to accept sin and brokenness in our family will lead to hypocrisy, and by denying and hiding the truth, we cannot help them to put things right.  Jesus was not ashamed of His ancestors.  He calls all of us His brothers and sisters.  Let us therefore not pretend or feel embarrassed when someone mentions that our brother, sister, uncle or aunt has done something wrong, like being involved in a crime.

Secondly, God can write straight in crooked lines.  When we study St Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, we find that he categorized the family tree of Jesus into three periods, with each phase of history comprising fourteen generations.  “The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.”   The first era of salvation history therefore began with Abraham, the father of faith and ended with King David.  The second stage illustrates the fall of Israel and the resultant exile in Babylon.  The final stage saw the restoration of Israel with its completion by Christ who is the Davidic King, priest and messiah.  The intention of St Matthew is to portray the divine plan of God unfolding, irrespective of man’s cooperation and infidelity.  God’s plan cannot be destroyed by the sinfulness of man.  Since the fall of humankind, God has already initiated the plan of redeeming His people, beginning from Abraham.  The arrival of Jesus is not by chance but in accordance with the divine plan of God. In His infinite wisdom and divine providence, God had prepared the people of Israel to receive the Messiah by sending them prophets and allowing the vicissitudes of history to purify them to welcome the Messiah.

Thirdly, to affirm that “Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ”, the evangelist confirms that Jesus is truly from the dynasty of David, and therefore the true King and Messiah on one hand.  However, on the other hand, it shows that Jesus is truly a man and shares all our human conditions except that He did not sin.   He too knows human frailty, the sufferings of humanity because of sin, injustice and weakness.

More importantly, although Jesus’ family tree was not perfect, He did not allow Himself to be dragged down by the sins of His ancestors.  Through Him, a new family protected by the grace of God was established.  For this reason, when Jesus was conceived, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Him and removed Him from Original Sin and the consequences that come from original sin.   Jesus, as the New and Second Adam, is fit to lead us to the Heavenly Father.  It is true that our family tree can affect us because of the effects of original sin, both in our human nature and the environment. But through Him, we too can share in His divine sonship by becoming the adopted children of God.  By virtue of our baptism, we receive the grace of God to live a holy life and a life of God.  We need not condemn ourselves to disaster just because we did not have a good family background, especially if our parents are divorced; our siblings have failed relationships and done all kinds of immoral activities.  We can be different.  Our lives are not doomed to failure.  Through Christ, we can break all curses and negative effects of our family tree from befalling on us.

Just as Judah, the most insignificant tribe, was chosen to be the one whom the Messiah would come, so too God will choose the weak, the lowly and the unknown and ordinary people of society to be His instruments of salvation.  He chose Mary, a lowly handmaid, to be the Mother of Jesus.  He chose sinners like St Peter and St Paul to be pillars of the Church He had established.  He chose the weak and the simple, the uncouth, like the shepherds, to announce the arrival of the birth of the Messiah.  Indeed, He chose the weak to shame the strong.  We too can make a difference in our family.  We must not resign ourselves to a fatalistic mentality, as if we cannot change the unfortunate course of our family tree.  Each one of us can, with the power of God’s grace in Christ, turn whatever is sinful, negative and shameful in our family line to something positive and edifying.  There is a role for each one of us to play in redeeming our family members from following the path of perdition.

So, as we approach the feast of Christmas, we must spend time going through our family tree.  Let us give thanks to God for our ancestors.  Let us search and remember what they have done for us.  In spite of their imperfections, mistakes and follies, they too have tried to live a good life within the constraints they were in.  They too had their fair share of struggles to do the right thing, of failures and success.  So for the good they have done for us and the blessings we have inherited through them, let us give praise and thanks to God for them.

On the other hand, if we uncover some skeletons in the cupboard, let us not be ashamed but accept our human condition.  We too are sinners like them.  When we see their mistakes, we do not condemn them but we ask the Lord to forgive them so that they too can forgive themselves.  It is also important for us to offer our members of the family, living and dead, our forgiveness.  Let us assure them that we hold nothing against them because they too were ignorant and more often than not, reacting to the perceived hurts that others inflicted on them, or their fears of loneliness, suffering and rejection.  We must pray for them and ask God to give them the grace of reconciliation during this Christmas.  On our part, if we can, let us reach out to them and be reconciled so that instead of darkness, we shed light; joy instead of sadness, hope instead of despair, forgiveness instead of condemnation.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


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