Homily for December 17th 2016:
To come to Mass eight days before Christmas each year and to hear this long list of mostly strange sounding names – a challenge to any priest or deacon reading them – is discouraging, to say the least. And when we get to the end and find that Jesus’ ancestry has been traced not to Mary but to Joseph, his legal but not his biological father, is jarring. What can we say about all this?
The list contains both saints and grave sinners. They symbolize all of us, with our strengths and weaknesses, who need the saving power of God. Jesus came, humanly speaking, from some great and talented people, but equally from the poor and insignificant. God, this list tells us, writes straight with crooked lines. He has certainly done that in my life. Which of you could not say the same about yours?
Especially interesting are the women in the list. The first mentioned is Tamar, a Gentile outside God’s Chosen People, who seduced her father-in-law, Judah, so that she could have a child. The next woman is another Gentile outsider, a prostitute named Hagar, honored by the Jews despite her sinful way of life, because she hid and thus saved from execution the Jewish men sent out by Moses’ successor Joshua to spy out the future home of God’s people. Then there is Ruth, another outsider, though not a grave sinner. Bathsheba, also a Gentile, is not even mentioned by name. She is identified simply as the one “who had been the wife of Uriah.” She was the one who committed adultery with David – whose advances she could hardly refused, however, given the absolute power of a king in those days. And at the end of her life she would scheme to make sure that one of her own offspring would inherit David’s throne.
The late great American biblical scholar Raymond Brown writes: “The God who wrote the beginnings on crooked lines also writes the sequence with crooked lines, and some of these are own lives and witness.” Christianity is not just for the talented, the good, the humble and honest. No one is so bad, so insignificant, so devoid of talent that he or she is outside the circle of Jesus Christ. And that includes all of us here today.