Fr Paul SciberrasWe are being asked to trace our family tree back to its origin: Jesus and God himself. That would make Jesus not only Immanu-El, God with us, but also that He runs in our veins!
Thursday, 17 December 2015

Genesis 49:2.8-10; Psalm 71; Matthew 1:1-171

Who are your ancestors?

Descent was an extremely important trait within Jewish society; fundamental, I would say. Descent guaranteed the continuation of a person; it guaranteed the continuation of a family. If the family bound a person to the tribe, then it could only be established through descent. If the Jewish People of God was made up of the Twelve Tribes bound together, then God could have his own people, and could be called the God of Israel, only if that people continued to exist through descent. This is the reason why the Patriarch Jacob called his twelve sons by his deadbed for one last heart to heart mustering. “‘Gather round, sons of Jacob, and listen; listen to Israel your father” (v.2,

First Reading).

Shema‛ Israel; hear, O Israel Jacob/Israel commands his sons to listen to him, just as the Lord Yahweh commands his people and indeed all of us to listen to him: “Hear, O Israel” (Deuteronomy 6:4), or as Isaiah calls out his people to do: “Hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen” (44:1). It is only by passing on to them his own mind that he can continue to live in them. It is only if they listen to and obey him that they will be his true sons. It is only by sharing his mind with us that God can continue to live in us and we continue to be his true children. We are descended from God; he lives in us.

Jesus, son of Abraham

Jesus’ genealogy traces his biological descent from Abraham to Joseph, his legal/adoptive father, and Mary. He too forms part of the People of God. God too continues to live in him. Wasn’t he called Immanu-El, God with us? God continues to be with us through Jesus, the one at whose transfiguration, “while he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:5).

Jesus, son of David

Jesus is not only one of the descendants of Jacob/Israel, just anyone in the Jewish People of God: he is of royal lineage, descended from David, the king about whom God could say: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will perform my entire will” (Acts 13:22). Matthew underscores this kingly blood in Jesus not only by tracing his lineage back to David, but even by giving a particular structure to his family tree. “The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to thBabylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ” (v.17, Gospel).

Number fourteen

Jews do not have signs for numbers (1, 2, 3, etc). The letters of the alphabet serve as number signs. Aleph, the first letter, serves as 1; beth, the second, is 2, etc. Now if we give numerical value to the name David (an interpretation technique called gematria), DaWîD in Hebrew, it would give us 4 + 6 + 4, 14. Jesus is of royal descent. Jesus is the king, like David, his ancestor.

Come, King of hearts!

‘Lord Jesus, king of hearts, come and build your throne within our ears, that we may listen to you. Come, Lord Jesus, make your throne within our wills, that we may indeed want what you want. Come, Lord Jesus, put up your throne in our listening hearts so that we may be and do whatever you ask of us. May you be all in all. Amen.’

 Between the 17 and 24 December, the liturgy makes use of the “Major ‘O’ Antiphons” for the Alleluia Verses (as well as for the Antiphons for Vespers). All Alleluia verses begin with ‘O’: 17th “O Wisdom; 18th O Ruler of the House of Israel; 19th O Root of Jesse; 20th O Key of David; 21st O Radiant Dawn; 22nd O King of the Peoples; 23rd O Emmanuel. But the original Latin liturgy for these Antiphons had a very specific achrostic aim for them. Taking the first letter of each evocation in the antiphons in Latin would give us: O Sapientia; O Adonai; O Radix; O Clavis; O Oriens; O Rex; O Emmanuel. The first four, in reverse, would give us: Cras; the second three would give us: Ero, which means “tomorrow (cras) I will be (ero); tomorrow I will come” (Christmas Day, the Day of Jesus’ Coming, begins on the eve of the 25th). It is a pedagogical waiting for the Lord Jesus, as we invoke him with these sublime titles, until we can celebrate and adore him as our God become flesh. suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:5).

Rev. Dr Paul Sciberras S.Th.L. (Melit.), S.S.L. (P.B.I., Rome), S.Th.D. (Melit.)
Head, Department of Sacred Scripture, Hebrew and Greek
Faculty of Theology
University of Malta
Msida MSD 2080 MALT ​A