Genealogy- Luke 3:23-38

12 Dec

“You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)I ended the last reflection from Luke’s Gospel on this blog with that passage. As I typed it, I noticed the footnote related to it at the bottom of the page in the Bible. The footnote read: “Other ancient authorities read ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’”. The verb “to beget” is remarkable in that it can mean to reproduce biologically, or it can mean to bring about one’s own self in an act of supreme love, as God the Father did in eternally begetting God the Son, in the non-biological sense. From this love between the Father and the Son there proceeds the Holy Spirit, according to what Catholics profess in the Nicene Creed. Thus, God’s perfect love unites three persons in one God- in the mystery that is the Trinity.

God the Father is “well pleased” with God the Son as He begins His mission to unite all people to Himself. The Father is pleased, then, with the obedient unity of the Trinity. We are also called in Jesus’ name to the same unity within ourselves, with each other, and with God. No matter what is written here, though, this unity and love remains a mystery. We don’t understand it, and all the books of the world contain only a fraction of the knowledge of what this true love is about. (cf. John 21:25)

As Jesus begins His earthly mission, it becomes increasingly clear that the Son of God is begotten for the salvation of all people. However, despite the misunderstanding of even some of His closest followers, the biological lineage of Jesus is subordinate to His loving relationship with the Father. But the accounts of Jesus’ genealogy in the Gospels of Luke and of Matthew appear at first to be descriptions of Jesus’ biological family tree. One then realizes that the Matthean and Lucan Gospels seem contradictory. Luke, for example, mentions more generations (77) than does Matthew (42). A closer look reveals that the Gospel genealogies are more than simple biological sketches. Luke’s Gospel reads:

“Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work”. (Luke 3:23)

Luke rarely mentions Jesus’ age. So far Jesus’ age has been referred to only twice: He was eight days old when He was presented in the Temple (cf. Luke 2:22-32), and twelve years old when He became lost in Jerusalem. (cf. Luke 2:41-51) People’s ages are written in the Gospel of Luke only at particularly momentous occasions. At this turning point, as Jesus begins His ministry, He is on the way to redeem us from our sins, to rise from death, and to return to the Father.

After the brief but important mention of Jesus’ age, Luke continues by relating Jesus through the family ancestry of Joseph, who was Jesus’ father, “as was thought”. (Luke 3:23) Joseph is Jesus’ legal guardian. Naturally, people would associate Jesus with the humble carpenter. Those who heard Jesus and who were amazed, as well as those trying to deride Him, would proclaim, “Is not this Joseph’s son”? (Luke 4:22, cf. John 6:42) Joseph himself didn’t fully understand his relation to Jesus, especially how Mary was able to conceive a child though still a virgin, but he was comforted in a dream by the angel. (cf. Matthew 1:20) When their child stayed behind in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary looked frantically for Jesus, not understanding how this episode related to God’s plan.

Yet Joseph was always faithful to the law, to his family, and to God. He registered the family as required, settled in Nazareth, and cared for his wife and son. Although it is not recorded in any of the Gospels, Joseph likely taught Jesus many things about carpentry. In any case Jesus was fully human, in all ways except sin, as well as fully divine. He was completely in this world, so it is conceivable that He not only knew Joseph’s earthly trade, but that He was totally obedient to Joseph and to Mary, just as He obeyed God fully in order to sacrifice Himself and thus to accomplish His salvific mission.

In relation to the Lord’s mission, ours is much simpler. Our daily vocation and commandment is to love each other as ourselves and to love God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has already taken care of the rest. Within this broadly-defined mission of love, we have many smaller missions. We are mothers, fathers, children, godparents, and relatives to one another. We share this familial bond. We work to earn a living. We reflect on spiritual matters. Some of us are married, or are priests or religious, or are consecrated single people. No matter, we all have little missions. We also sometimes take on selfish missions that unfortunately distract us from the mission of love. For these times we ask the Lord’s forgiveness.

As I thought about what to write about Luke’s account of Jesus’ genealogy, I remembered how much time and energy my mother, and I to a lesser extent, invested in finding out our family’s history. We started by looking for records from my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. Grandma grew up in a small Francophone Catholic town called Lafontaine, Ontario, on the south shore of Georgian Bay. Lafontaine was settled by tradesmen, fishermen, and farmers from many communities in Ontario and Quebec. Those who came to Lafontaine often mistrusted each other. This mistrust reached a near-boiling point with the appearance of the legendary wolf of Lafontaine. In the legend, the wolf terrorized the townspeople, killing their livestock. One farmer who lost about forty sheep, Colbert Tessier, blamed a fisherman, François Labatt, for his loss. Tessier assumed that Labatt’s two dogs were responsible, and set out to destroy them. Despite the wolf’s destruction of livestock, the wolf loved children. One night, a two-year-old child went missing. The townspeople, having realized that a wolf, not a dog, was ravaging their livestock, feared the worst. Later, the child was found near a stream. Skid marks and wolf tracks on the bank suggested that the wolf had saved the child’s life, pulling the boy from the water. Nonetheless, it was too late to save the wolf, as the townspeople were determined to kill it. A blind man eventually succeeded in destroying the wolf. A high mass was sung over the pelt of the wolf. This united a community. Colbert Tessier agreed to replace Labatt’s dogs. A child was saved. This boy would go on to become a priest and possibly the writer of the legend.

I translated the text of the legend of the Lafontaine wolf from French to English so that my Anglophone family members could understand it*. In so doing I came to a deeper understanding of a piece of my family’s history. Genealogy has a unifying effect- people who love each other work together toward a common goal: an increase in knowledge of family ancestry. This was fun and also a wonderful opportunity.

Similarly, reading the Biblical genealogies of Jesus unifies us with Christ’s mission. According to Luke, Jesus is “the son, as was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God”. (Luke 3:23-38 )

As I said earlier, Luke mentions 77 generations in relating Jesus to God. Remember, Lamech, father of Noah, lived to be 777 (not literal) years old. (cf. Genesis 5:31) Also, Jesus says to forgive endlessly, not seven times but seventy times seven, or 77 times, depending upon the translation. (cf. Matthew 18:21)

Matthew’s Gospel mentions only 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. The order of the Matthean account is the reverse of that of Luke. Many items seem contradictory between the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke. But this needs not be so if one avoids reading too literally. There are, of course, interesting parallels as well as pertinent differences. In Luke, there are 42 generations from David to Jesus. In Matthew, there are 42 generations in total, which are organized into three sets of 14 (Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian exile, and from the exile to Christ)- two times seven, and Matthew mentions five women that Luke does not.

 

 

 
I can see how genealogy can be interesting. I worked with Mom on her genealogical project. Many people have done the same with their families’ record. The Mormons keep a very thorough genealogical record. People gravitate toward genealogies, albeit false ones, like that found in the da Vinci Code. In the case of the Gospels, genealogy brings us back to God, though not necessarily through a biological or legal line, but through love. God does not think strictly according to human thoughts, but transcends them.Lord, bring us to the unity with Yourself that you desire. Help us no longer to be slaves, but friends. Make us your own sons and daughters. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, God with us, Emmanuel. Amen.

 

 

 

 

WRS

 

*The French version of the Lafontaine wolf legend, as well as a partial English translation of it, can be found at http://www.festivalduloup.on.ca.

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