In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Who are we and where do we come from? This question can be viewed from several different places. The existential idea of where did life begin, what was it like and ultimately leading us to understand who we are as human, as men and women? This is one way to address the question. Another may be from the cultural aspect or maybe our family tree; Our genetics and predisposition to certain illnesses. Today, I am sure many of us have participated in the 23 and Me, Ansestory.com or other such DNA databases, which can answer these questions on a more biological or anthropological level. Knowing our dynasty and our lineage is a powerful thing because for many of us it can describe who we are as individuals. And knowing who we are is vital in our growth and development. It’s no wonder that some of the greatest philosophers and thinkers of the ancient world emphasized this idea of “know thy self.”
In fact this is so important that the very first chapter of the very first Gospel found in our Holy Bibles begins with the lineage and family tree of Christ Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew – starts with “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (v.1) To understand why Matthew begins this way, we need to understand that St. Matthew wrote his Gospel for a Jewish audience. And for Jewish listeners and reader genealogy was extremely important. If you ever get a chance to read the Old Testament in full, you will see how many times family trees are described. What is unique about Matthew’s genealogy compared to the others found in the Old Testament is that it contains the names of women. Who are these women? Tamar, Rehab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. They are neither Jewish and if we examine their lives, they were in fact dishonorable and extremely sinful women. The only honorable women mentioned is the Virgin Mary, as the genealogy concludes with “…Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” (1:16) So what can we understand, what is our take away from today’s Gospel?
My dears, what kind of people did we say were listed in this genealogy? Sinful, prideful, adulterous, arrogant, vengeful, law-breaking, etc. Abraham, called by God “the father of many nations,” lied to his wife, twice. David, known as “a man after God’s heart,” is also an known as an adulterer and murderer. Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, was the one with whom David committed adultery. Rehab was a prostitute, Ruth entered into a marriage forbidden by Jewish law, the list goes on and on. Yet, out of this family tree, a sinful and frail tree was born the sinless and salvific Lamb of God – Christ Jesus.
St. Severus, a 6th century Patriarch of Antioch notes “By this means the genealogy revealed that it is our very sinful nature that Christ himself came to heal. It is that very nature which had fallen, revolted and plunged into inordinate desires. When our nature fled from God, he took hold of it. (exile) When it dashed out and ran away in revolt, he stopped it, held onto it, enabled it to return and blocked its downward spiral…Christ therefore took upon himself a blood relationship to that nature which fornicated, in order to purify it. He took on that very nature that was sick, in order to heal it.” Another one of our saints writes – Christ taking on flesh and sin did not become sinful but rather cleansed humanity of its sin. Like a piece of broken and dirty metal going into the furnace, it does not break or pollute the furnace but rather, the metal is melted down and made new.
My dear brothers and sisters, we are all sinful. Every day we require the love and healing of Christ Jesus – the fire that melts our impurities away and shapes us into the tool by which we become a light in this darkened world.
Today the Armenian Church celebrates the birth of the Virgin Mary. Mary was not sinless, nor was she special. Yes, she is the only honorable women mentioned in that genealogy, but she was sinful. Rather, she was cleansed and purified when she willing became the vessel through which Christ came into this world. And my dears we too are called to his. If we work with God and willingly act, speak, think, feel the way He commands us to – we each become a vessel through which Christ Jesus enters this world. Through the Grace of God, no matter how broken we are, are much we struggle, how much darkness we are surrounded with, no matter what decisions we have made in the past, no matter how many times we have fallen and sinned, no matter how high in power, statues and riches may have achieved in this life – every day, every moment, every second God gives us the opportunity to choose Him, to choose to be healed and to be healing in this world. Does this mean we will never again fall or fail? Absolutely not! However, through God’s love we are given again another opportunity to try again and again and again!
So if we want to know where we come from, if we desire to learn about our past in order to know who we are, I invite us to look at St. Pauls words today which teaches us, as baptized children, “you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Therefore, my dears, if we are of Abraham’s offspring, then we also belong to the lineage of Christ Jesus. We belong to the family tree of Christ Jesus. We too are of royal blood. A blood, which was spilt for us on the Holy Cross through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. A sacrifice through which we are given the opportunity to choose to rise and to be a light in this darkened world. Let us remain vigilant and prayerful and continue to ask God to teach us His ways, to lift us up no matter our shortcomings and to make us instruments by which we will bring glory to Him, to Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, Amen!