If you want to know Jesus, you need to know His family.
Luke and Matthew include a genealogy of Jesus in their gospel narratives. Why did they do this? In these short accounts of Jesus’ life, why was this information important to include? Because the story of Jesus is the story of the salvation of humanity. And the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the fourth part of that story. It’s the most important part. But if you want to understand who Jesus is and why we needed Him to save us, you need to understand the first three parts of the story.
“…the son of Adam, the son of God.” The first part of the story is the creation. The book of Genesis tells us that everything in the universe was created by God. As the final act of creation, God created man and woman “in His image,” as the pinnacle of His creation. God placed Adam and Eve in a perfect environment – the Garden of Eden – and God Himself would walk through the garden “at the breezy time of the day” (Genesis 3:8). Adam and Eve could walk and talk with Him, and look directly at Him, because they had never sinned. They had never disobeyed Him. Why would they? They lived in what Saint John Paul II called an original state of holiness. We could also call it a perfect state of happiness.
So the story of salvation history begins in perfection. Or almost. For there is a creature in the garden – the serpent – who has already rejected God and His ways, and who sets about to corrupt Adam and Eve. This is the second part of the story – the fall. God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He asks Adam and Eve to trust Him. Why wouldn’t they trust Him who has given them every good thing, even their very lives? But the serpent turns them against God. He says that God is lying to them, that disobeying His commands will bring them true happiness. Adam and Eve are deceived. They succumb to temptation and eat the forbidden fruit. As a result, they hide from God. They are cast out of the garden. They will have to work for their food. They will experience suffering and death. Their children will have an inclination to sin, to hurt each other and rebel against God. The story which began in loving goodness is now one of pain and estrangement. How can men and women be reconciled to God after the fall?
“…the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham…” God works very patiently. He created time and transcends it. He is never in a hurry. At the right time, God speaks to a man named Abraham, and chooses him to be head of a people specially chosen by God to begin the process of reconciling men and women to God. God would reveal Himself gradually to these people. He would ask them to trust Him. Abraham is the Old Testament exemplar of trusting in God. When God asked him to move with his family to a new land, Abraham believed. When God told him that, despite the advanced age of himself and his wife Sarah, he would be the father of a great nation, Abraham believed. Even when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham believed. He trusted in the providence and mercy of God, and was never disappointed. He is the father not only of the Jewish people, but of all those who place their trust in God.
“…the son of David…” The story of Israel (the third part of the story) played out over centuries, but follows a consistent dynamic: the people rebel against God, they suffer consequences for their sins, they repent and turn back to God, and God in His mercy renews the covenant He made with Abraham, that He would be their god, and they would be His people. God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and they grumbled about him in the desert. God gave them the Ten Commandments so they could flourish, and they built a golden calf. God gave them the Promised Land, and they worshipped false idols. God raised up prophets and judges to guide them, but they demanded a king like other nations. God gave them a king, but when the first king failed to follow God, God chose David, “a man after his own heart,” to lead Israel.
Under David’s kingship Israel would rise to great heights. David slew giants and conquered his enemies. He brought the Arc of the Covenant – God’s dwelling place among humanity – to Jerusalem, God’s holy city. He wrote incomparable songs of praise and worship to God. And yet David fell like all the others. At the height of his powers, he killed a fellow Israelite to steal away his wife. Confronted by the prophet Nathan, he repented of his sin, but he and his family suffered many calamities as a result of his choice.
The subsequent kings of Israel (with some exceptions) disobeyed God’s commands and worshipped false idols. The kingdom of Israel was divided, then conquered, and the people led into exile. God in His time would restore the kingdom, but the people would fall again. They were conquered by the Greeks and then the Romans.
God needed to take dramatic action to save His people. Despite everything He had done for them, they couldn’t raise themselves up to Him. But He could come down to their level to lift them up to Him. And that is where Jesus comes into the picture, the eternal Son of God, taking on human flesh to save us from our sins and reconcile us to God.
The story of Israel is also the story of each of us. God invites us to share in His communion of love, and even when we respond to the invitation, we still fall repeatedly. Yet God is continually patient with us. There is no limit to His mercy. And He showed this through Jesus.