Published on Sunday, 12/16/07 in Charleston, SC's Post and Courier, Faith and Values Section with the title "Christians share common genealogy". Not published in their online version.
In my first days in the Lowcountry, I discovered the importance of genealogies in Charleston. “Are you related to the Parkers on such-and-such Street?” Naively (albeit truthfully), I quickly responded, “No.” As you may be aware, a “no” in this category immediately highlighted that I am from “off”. A better answer, I later learned, is “probably way back”. This reply is equally true, and yet somehow still connects someone from North Carolina to the Holy City. It is nice to have roots, but as far as our eternal life is concerned, our earthly heritage is of zero importance.
In the case of Jesus Christ, however, the question “are you related to ___” is very important. So important that both Matthew and Luke record his lineage in their Gospels. The promised messiah, Jesus, was to have a certain, clear lineage. More specifically, as the prophet Isaiah foretold 700+ years BC, he was to “come forth [as] a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). More directly, he would be the eternal successor to King David, the great King of Israel. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore” (Isaiah 9:7ff).
So when the infant Jesus was born, causing no small controversy in the Roman Empire (King Herod jealously ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of two years old in order to protect his throne from the infant Messiah.), those who knew the Scriptures began to draw near to witness their fulfillment and to worship the newborn King. Even those who did not know and who were not looking for the Messiah (the Gentile Magi, for example) found him and worshipped him. As we sing in the Orthodox tradition, “for those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee…”
Two miracles in one: a child was born from a virgin, and this child, Jesus, is God incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us!
In the early centuries of the Church, even the heretics didn’t doubt Jesus’ divinity. Practically the reverse of today, it was his true humanity that was questioned. Already though, Christians who believed and taught what had always been known about Jesus Christ had kept genealogies which demonstrate his true humanity.
The answer to the Charlestonian question, “Who’s your daddy?” is answered in two ways for Jesus—since he is both God and Man. His Father is God the Father, from whom he is eternally begotten. As a human being and a man, he also has earthly parents—a foster father, Joseph, and his ever-virgin mother, Mary—both of whom are descendents of Abraham, the ancient Patriarch. It is this bloodline which is established in the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23ff. St. Matthew’s account, presented from Abraham to the birth of Jesus, demonstrates Jesus’ royal lineage—showing him to be the fulfillment of all the Kings of Israel. St. Luke’s account, on the other hand, begins with Jesus and works backwards in time, through the line of Levi, showing Jesus to be the fulfillment of the Priests of Israel. Additionally, by going all the way back to Adam, Jesus Christ is shown to be the new Adam, the true Son of God, who, like Adam, was born without human seed.
The genealogies make another—if not more subtle—comment as well: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners—both Jews and Gentiles, men and women. Among them are listed the following (to name only a few): King Ahaz “who did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord God”, who burned his own son and worshipped other gods. King Solomon, who despite his great wisdom, took foreign wives whose false religions turned him from the one true God. He also had hundreds of concubines. King David was an adulterer (with Bathsheba) and a murderer (by ordering the sure death of her husband, Uriah). Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth, the Moabite, was a gentile.
Thankfully, as Christians, our genealogy is always one of adoption and not one of bloodline. By our baptism in Christ, there is “neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Gentile”. Neither is there Charlestonian nor Yankee, etc. But the genealogies of Jesus Christ are central to our faith, demonstrating the actual, earthly heritage of the Pre-eternal God, made man. Come let us adore him!
Fr. John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mt. Pleasant. To read more visit www.holyascension.blogspot.com or write email@example.com.