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The Genealogy of Jesus

I love the list of names in the Gospel today, Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus.

The list was the subject of a wonderful homily once given by the great Dominican theologian, Herbert McCabe which concludes with a memorable Advent meditation:  “Well, that is the Book of the Generation of Jesus Christ.  The moral is too obvious to labour:  Jesus did not belong to the nice clean world of Angela McNamara or Mary Whitehouse, or to the honest, reasonable, sincere world of the Observer or the Irish Times.  He belonged to a family of murderers, cheats, cowards, adulterers and liars—He belonged to us and came to help us.  No wonder He came to a bad end, and gave us some hope.”

The homily, along with many other splendid things, can be found in Father McCabe’s book, God Matters.  Blessed Advent.

About the Author

Michael O. Garvey works in public relations at the University of Notre Dame.



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murderers, cheats, cowards, adulterers and liar

Also dopes: I'm looking at you, Hezekiah.

There is a collection of Advent essays called Watch for the Light. It was put together and published by the late, lamented Plough Press in 2001; Orbis distributes it now. For Dec. 16 the reading is from a novel called Evensong by Gail Godwin, published in 1999. The novel is about an Episcopal priest, a woman, who is pastor of a mountain parish. The selection from the book begins with a 10-year-old girl standing before the congregation reading the genealogy.The congregation is taken aback. "If I had dared to do this part of the sermon," says the priest, "there would have been raised eyebrows before Perez and silent mutiny before Boaz." The girl finishes in three minutes and 10 seconds, and Pastor Margaret begins the sermon, which she says is drawn from a lecture she heard by Fr. Raymond Brown, SS, which was published in a monograph, which will be available in the church crypt.

Last year I finally decided to see if the Brown monograph existed outside the fictional church's crypt. It does: A Coming of Christ in Advent, published by The Liturgical Press, and Amazon had it. It's short and it's Raymond Brown, so it's good. I have been re-reading it today.

During the summer I finally wondered if Evensong was available. Mirabile dictu, at my library. On the shelf. It is not a great novel, but it is a very, very good one. You can find the back story for the people mentioned in the Watch for the Light selection. I recommend everything in italics here. Also Matt. 1.


Perhaps that genealogy is why the church decided that mary must have been immculately conceived, to break the genetic chain in this dodgy family tree. Although the tree is Joseph's, Mary too was of the House of David. Joseph, not immaculately conceived, was still stuck with his family ancestry. But Mary wasn't.

In November, the Tallis Scholars (White Lights Festival, Lincoln Center) sang a wonderful piece by Arvo Part of the genealogy, except backwards! from Christ to Adam. It combined a deep chant undertone with a light upper register with the air of an Oh Susanna or maybe Chuck Barry, "I'm going to Neworlens...." Amazing.

Correction: That would be Fats Domino goin to norleans.


Not to be snarky, Mr. McGrath, but I'll bet that if I could go back 14 generations my family wouldn't be any greater shakes than Joseph's. I know what's in my line for four back and already there is a dodgy spot where there are too many spouses without sufficient offsetting deaths or divorces. Maybe yours is exceptional?

Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar

 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab

Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.

whose mother had been the wife of UriahIn


It is interesting to study these women as they foreshadow Mary and shed some light on how Matthew handled the rumours surrounding the circumstances of Jesus's birth.


There is a wonderful book by Ann Ulanov, prof of religion and psychiatry at Union Theological, titled, The Female Ancestors of Christ. 

Four women are featured: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, the only women named in the genealogy of Matthew in the Gospels.

Browse the google books listing and savor:

Christmas blessings to all.

I'm sure it's not a new observation, but as I read this post and then the Nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke, I was struck by how male-dominated the first is and how woman-centered the second.

Matthew has the long and slightly tedious list of mostly male progenitors of Jesus, which turn out to be legal forebears in some sense, but definitely not biological. He has the numerology of the 14 x 3 generations, which I suspect is mostly a guys' thing (and which he somehow manages to miscount). And  he treats Mary as a vessel, rather than a person. She is simply "found to be pregnant." It is Joseph who gets the angel's explanation in a dream, plus two more visitations about going to and returning from Egypt.

In Luke, we are told that God actively seeks Mary's consent and cooperation in this most momentous event. She says yes for herself and for us. And then she goes immediately to visit Elizabeth and stays for three months. There's the wonderful detail of the baby leaping in Elizabeth's womb. And we can imagine the two of them sitting comfortably each day in Elizabeth's sewing room, making baby clothes and talking happily in the immemorial way of women at such times.

Thank you, John Prior.

I read what I could from Amazon. Awesome book Carolyn! Love it. I am going to get it as a gift as I usually get a gift card for Chapters in my stocking. Merry Christmas to me!!

Wonderful, George D, you will not be disappointed.

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