CHRIST'S FAMILY TREE
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Though His Divine nature was from eternity, His human nature had a Jewish background. The Blood that flowed in His veins was from the royal house of David through His mother who, though poor, belonged to the lineage of the great king. His contemporaries called Him the "Son of David." The people would never have consented to regard as a Messiah any pretender who did not fulfill this indispensable condition. Nor did Our Blessed Lord Himself ever deny His Davidic origin. He only affirmed that His Davidic affiliation did not explain the relations which He possessed with the Father in His Divine Personality.
The opening words of the Gospel of Matthew suggest the Genesis of Our Lord. The Old Testament begins with the Genesis of Heaven and earth through God making all things. The New Testament had another kind of Genesis, in the sense that it describes the making of all things new. The genealogy that is given implies that Christ was "a Second Man," and not merely one of the many that had sprung from Adam. Luke, who directed his Gospel to the Gentiles, traced Our Lord's descent back to the first man, but Matthew, who directed His Gospel to the Jews, set Him forth as "Son of David and the Son of Abraham." The difference in the genealogy between Luke and Matthew is due to the fact that Luke, writing for the Gentiles, was careful to give a natural descent; while Matthew, writing for the Jews, verged from the natural after the time of David, in order to make it clear to the Jews that Our Lord was the Heir to the Kingdom of David.
Luke is concerned about the Son of Man; Matthew about the King of Israel. Hence Matthew opens his Gospel:
A table of the descent of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. [Matthew 1:1]
Matthew pictures the generations from Abraham to Our Lord as having passed through three cycles of fourteen each. This does not, however, represent a complete genealogy. Fourteen are mentioned from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian captivity, and fourteen from the Babylonian captivity to Our Blessed Lord. The genealogy goes beyond the Hebrew background to include a few non-Jews. There may have been a very good reason for this, as well as for the inclusion of others who had not the best reputations in the world. One was Rahab, who was a foreigner and a sinner; another was Ruth, a foreigner though received into the nation; a third was the sinner Bethsabee whose sin with David cast shame upon the royal line. Why should there be blots on the royal escutcheon, such as Bethsabee, whose womanly purity was tainted; and Ruth who, though morally good, was an introducer of alien blood into the stream? Possibly it was in order to indicate Christ's relationship to the stained and to the sinful, to harlots and sinners, and even to the Gentiles who were included in His Message and Redemption.
In some translations of Scripture, the word that is used to describe the genealogy is the word "begot;" for example, "Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob;" in other translations there is the expression "was the father of;" for example, "Jechonias was the father of Salathiel." The translation is unimportant; what stands out is that this monotonous expression is used throughout forty-one generations. But it is omitted when the forty-second generation is reached. Why? Because of the Virgin Birth of Jesus.
distinct from it.
If there was a suggestion of the Virgin Birth in the genealogy of Matthew, so there was a suggestion of it in the genealogy of Luke. In Matthew, Joseph is not described as having begotten Our Lord, and in Luke, Our Lord is called:
The son, as people thought, of Joseph. [Luke 2:34]
He meant that Our Lord was popularly supposed to be the Son of Joseph. Combining the two genealogies: in Matthew, Our Lord is the Son of David and of Abraham; He is, in Luke, the Son of Adam and the seed of the woman God promised would crush the head of the serpent. Men who are not moral, by God's Providence, are made the instruments of His policy; David, who murdered Urias, nevertheless is the channel through which the blood of Abraham floods into the blood of Mary. There were sinners in the family tree, and He would seem to be the greatest sinner of all when He would hang upon the family tree of the Cross, making men adopted sons of the Heavenly Father.