Turning a Family Tree into Salvation History, December 17, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Michael’s Parish, Fall River, MA
Mass of December 17
December 17, 2016
Is 49:2.8-10, Ps 72, Mt 1:1-17


Today’s homily was given in Portuguese and not recorded. The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we begin the second phase of Advent dedicated to the proximate preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s birth. In the first phase of Advent, which runs from the first Sunday of Advent through December 16, we focus on the Lord’s “triple-coming” in history (Bethlehem), mystery (the sacraments and prayer), and majesty (on the clouds of heaven for the second coming), with a special accent on the third and, based on it, the second and how we’re called to run out to embrace him in each of these three ways that, transformed by him, we begin to journey with him. Now we shift gears and we will begin traversing the events that happened just before our Savior’s birth.
  • To accompany us each day, the Church gives us the ancient “O Antiphons,” called “O” because they all start with a vocative, calling the Lord Jesus by a specific title, and then asking him under that title to do something specific for us so that we may become more like him. These antiphons were already in use in the 700s in Rome but may have their origin a few hundred years earlier than that. In them, we’ll address Jesus in Latin, O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and finally O Emmanuel (O God-with-us). These Antiphons are prayed by the Church twice a day, during the Alleluia verse to prepare us for the Gospel at Mass, and before and after the Magnificat canticle at Vespers. They influence the way we’re supposed to relate to Jesus as he comes into our world, the way we’re supposed to receive God’s word and the way we’re called to respond with joy. The beautiful Advent hymn we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” is based on the O Antiphons, but the translation is a little loose and they’ve changed the traditional order. Regardless, it is a beautiful hymn not just to sing but upon which to meditate during these last days before Christmas.
  • The O Antiphon we have today orients our approach to today’s readings: O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter sauviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae. “O Wisdom, who have come from the mouth of God Most High, guiding all created things strongly and sweetly from end to end: come to teach us the way of prudence.” And Jesus, Wisdom incarnate, responds to that prayer by teaching us the way of wisdom that effuses his genealogy.
  • The first reaction of most of us to the Lord’s genealogy is that it concerns anything but wisdom. Pope Francis, whose 80th birthday we mark today, said two years ago that when this passage is read, many say it’s like reading straight out of the telephone book. But there’s something else going on. The genealogy of the Lord first shows us history, that the Word of God not only became man and dwelled among us but became “history.” He entered our history. Jews were even more focused on genealogies than French Canadians and it was highly significant for St. Matthew to show that Jesus was a descendent first of Abraham and then of David. This communicated, respectively, that he was a Jew and he was an appropriate candidate to be the Messiah as a descendant of King David.
  • But Jesus didn’t merely enter into history, but changed it, making it “salvation history.” That’s what the three main phases of fourteen generations show us in the genealogy. They trace out for us the three main stages in salvation history. The progression from from the wandering Abraham to established King David shows the  dignity to which God calls us all, to his kingdom, to greatness. God’s made us for this greatness. The middle 14 generations show how we squandered that greatness, ending up in slavery in the Babylonian exile. But the last 14 show us that God didn’t leave us there, but entered not just to bring us back to the beginning but to bring us forward to an even greater state, because now we know that how much God really does love us mercifully.
  • We see this truth about salvation history clearly depicted in the genealogy. It was almost unheard of to mention the names of women in genealogies. But we see several women named — and not just the Blessed Virgin. We see Tamar, who was a seducer and adulteress, deceiving her father-in-law into impregnating her(Gen 38); Rahab who was a prostitute in Jericho (Josh 2:1-7); Ruth who was not even a Jew but a Moabite whom the Book of Deuteronomy said shouldn’t be admitted into the assembly of the Lord (Deut 23:3); and Bathsheba, an adulteress, whom David seduced and who became the mother of Solomon (2 Sam 11). These are women who were clearly sinners — as were various of the other men in the genealogy, but whose sins were not quite as infamous — but sinners who were grafted onto the tree of salvation history leading to Jesus. They show us how Jesus wants to redeem all of us from the inside, from within history, turning even our sins into an opportunity for salvation.
  • But the genealogy in a sense doesn’t stop there. God has entered into salvation history in order to walk with us, in order to lead us out of sin onto the path of wisdom and right judgment. In his 2014 homily on this genealogy, Pope Francis said something very beautiful and creative. He asked, “What is God’s last name?” It’s only a recent phenomenon that people have first and last names. Throughout most of history, people’s last name either was the place that they were from (Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Philip of Macedonia, Paul of Tarsus), or what they did (Smith, Baker, Miller, Seaman, Taylor, Piper, Cook, Farmer, Hunter, Cartwright, Carpenter, Dyer, Knight, Archer, Butler, Mason and so on) or whose son they were (Simon bar Jonah [Simon, son of John], Hansen [son of Hans], MacDonald [Son of Donald]). What’s God’s surname? “We are,” Pope Francis said, “each one of us. He takes our name for his name.” Just as God said to Moses from the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob,” so he says still, “I am the God of Roger,” of Manual, of Odete, of Jose, of Fernando, of Grace and so on.  He makes us all part of his family tree, at its very roots, so that we can be grafted not only onto his history but his salvation history.
  • The true path of wisdom onto which we beg God to lead us culminates in our letting Jesus, salvation history incarnate, to begin to write our own history. True sanctity is letting the Lord write our history, cooperating with his plans to save us and through us to help him save the world. As we prepare for communion with the Lord of history, let us ask him for the grace to do in us what he did with Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, and make our names famous because of their association with Him, who loved us so much to take our names as his own!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
GN 49:2, 8-10

Jacob called his sons and said to them:
“Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob,
listen to Israel, your father.
“You, Judah, shall your brothers praise
–your hand on the neck of your enemies;
the sons of your father shall bow down to you.
Judah, like a lion’s whelp,
you have grown up on prey, my son.
He crouches like a lion recumbent,
the king of beasts–who would dare rouse him?
The scepter shall never depart from Judah,
or the mace from between his legs,
While tribute is brought to him,
and he receives the people’s homage.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 72:1-2, 3-4AB, 7-8, 17

R. (see 7) Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
The mountains shall yield peace for the people,
and the hills justice.
He shall defend the afflicted among the people,
save the children of the poor.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.
In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed;
all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.

MT 1:1-17

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham became the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez became the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab became the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz became the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth.
Obed became the father of Jesse,
Jesse the father of David the king.
David became the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
Solomon became the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asaph.
Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah became the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amos,
Amos the father of Josiah.
Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers
at the time of the Babylonian exile.
After the Babylonian exile,
Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.
Abiud became the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok.
Zadok became the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar became the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
fourteen generations.