The Genealogy of Jesus
Our Gospel reading today is Luke 3:21-38. The NIV gives this passage the heading “The Baptism and Genealogy of Jesus.” And if you’re anything like me, you aren’t thrilled by the second part of that heading. I can handle the baptism of Jesus, but the genealogy? Genealogies (which, again, are those long lists of names that we can’t pronounce or keep straight) are hard for me to take on their own. But this one is made harder by the fact that our Bible reading also has us in Chronicles where we are getting one genealogy after another. So today’s reading is hitting us with genealogies from both sides. It’s enough for me to ask, “God, what are you doing here?”
God, What Are You Doing?
But now that I think about it, that is actually a good question to ask. It is a good question when we ask it sincerely, that is, and not superiorly. It is not good to ask, “God, what are you doing here?” when we think what He is doing is not helpful or right or wise. But it is good to ask, “God, what are you doing here?” when we honestly want to know what acts or truths of God we are missing in the verses before us. In fact, I think asking that question in that sincere, honest way needs to be a constant part of our Bible reading.
When I ask that question in that way here (as I eventually did once I got over the disappointment of yet another genealogy), I see that God is doing several very good things here. He is establishing the truth that Jesus is Davidic, that is, of the line of King David and thus a legitimate heir to the throne of Israel and the ultimate fulfillment of the promise that David would always have a son on the throne. That itself is of extreme importance.
Beyond that, He is establishing that Jesus is universal; whereas Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus only goes back to Abraham, the father of the Jews, Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to Adam, the father of all humankind, thus showing that Gentiles (who don’t descend from Abraham but do descend from Adam) have access to Jesus as well. This, by the way, is the same thing God showed me when I sat down to begin Chronicles several years ago; I knew it would be difficult so I asked Him to show me what I needed to see, and the first thing I saw was Adam, which showed me that I was accepted as part of His family.
But there is something else established here, something that I think I was somewhat aware of before but really saw today. God is establishing here that the story He is telling with His people is not just a story of successes but also a story of failures. God is establishing here that this story is being told and advanced not just with saints nor just with sinners but with people who are a little of both.
Look at the names you recognize here (I know there are a lot you don’t recognize, but look at the ones you do). David is perhaps the most obvious. Did David have great victories? Did he do great things? Yes he did. I was particularly inspired by our reading in Chronicles last week which showed David collecting materials for the Temple he would not get to see. But did he do some terrible things? Did he sin? Did he stumble? Did he do things that were wicked and things that were stupid? Yes, he did those things, too.
What about Judah, the head of Jesus’ tribe? Same thing. Judah was willing to sacrifice himself to save Benjamin, but he was also willing to cheat his daughter-in-law out of her place in his family. Jacob? I don’t think I even need to detail his sins and failures, do I? Isaac? He loved one son more than another and was determined to bless that son even though God wanted him to bless the other. Abraham? A great man of faith, but he sometimes lied about his wife to save himself and he at least once took matters into his own hands instead of waiting on God.
Now I don’t bring up these things to try to discredit these individuals; that would discredit me more than it would them. No, I bring them up because their being in this genealogy, their being listed as part of God’s story despite their sins and shortcomings, shows me that I can be in this genealogy, that I can be a part of God’s story despite my sins and shortcomings, too.
Like many of us, I suffer from the idea that relationships are based on my performance, that if I fail to perform as expected I will be rejected by the people I want to be in relationship with. I tend to regard my relationships with people as being based on my performance, and, even worse, I tend to regard my relationship with God as being based on my performance. The idea that all relationships are based on performance was beaten into me on the mean streets of Lincoln Village, and it still factors into my thoughts and feelings today.
But what God is showing me in this genealogy contradicts and overcomes that idea. God is telling me, “Yes, your performance has been lacking in all sorts of ways, just as these peoples’ performances were lacking. But no, you are not being rejected because of that, just as they were not rejected because of that. We are still in relationship despite that. You are still part of my story and my family.”
That’s what I see in the genealogy of Jesus. And I am very glad to see that today.