4 Reasons Painfully Long Genealogies Matter

by Gospels, Mass

Many times when I get bored at Mass, it is because I didn’t prepare myself well beforehand. Or I might have had too many worries floating around in my head that I was unwilling to entrust to God. I think it would be safe to say that the readings of the genealogies (Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23-38) in the Gospels present a special challenge.

It’s tough not to get distracted. Trying to find some meaning that applies to our lives seems impossible.

Still, all is not lost. As usual, the Word of God always surpasses our skeptical expectations. Here are a few surprisingly powerful ways this Gospel reading (Mt 1:1-16, 18-23) spoke to me:

1. Patience measures and inflames desire

I’m not sure how many Russian movies you have seen, but the first one that I saw was one by Andrei Tarkovsky called the Stalker. The movie’s introduction is undoubtedly the slowest that I’ve ever seen. The first three to four minutes are packed with scrolling credits and an immobile man drinking a cup of coffee. From there, things get more interesting if you’re able to pick up on the symbols.

Speaking about it in an interview, Tarkovsky said something surprising:
“The film needs to be slower and duller at the start so that the viewers who walked into the wrong theatre have time to leave before the main action starts”.
I sometimes wonder if, in addition to the many theological and historical themes present, the Gospel writer wants to see what kind of audience he has. Waiting tests and increases the desire. How big is our desire to hear the good news? How strong is our perseverance? He wants to know if we’re there for the right reason.
**It’s worth noting that with study, one will stumble on plenty of interesting facts and dimensions in these genealogies. Even their structure and placement reveal certain ideas and conceptions of the Gospel writer. But I will leave that for another post.

2. A powerful dramatic technique

While some might imagine a historian writing it, what if the Gospel writer was something more like a theater director. What if he was actually implementing a powerful, dramatic technique?
You probably waited between two and three minutes for the genealogy to be read. Have you ever asked yourself: How long has mankind waited for the coming of God, the Emmanuel? What if the genealogy gives us a minuscule taste of that century-long wait?
The revelation of who God is, of His love and mercy, did not happen overnight. Each name on that long list has a story to tell. Many were serious sinners, men and women who fell time and time again. They struggled to discover and remain faithful to both God and themselves.
Maybe the Gospel writer is subtly telling us something similar. We all need to be patient and persevere in order to discover who God is in our lives, just like the people of Israel. There are so many questions that one might have about his or her faith, about the teachings of the Church. We all doubt once in a while whether we are capable and willing to live out the Christian adventure at all.  Today’s Gospel reminds us that it takes time and perseverance. More than a spotless record, those who reached the promise land of Emmanuel were those who trusted in Him and moved forward, one day at a time.

3. Patience doesn’t only mean waiting

Patient, coming from its Latin root, also refers to suffering. And just as the people of God and the people of Israel waited, they also suffered. We read of the exportation and Babylon. As the plight of so many refuges in the world reminds us, nothing could be more dramatic or more tragic for these people.
Yesterday’s Gospel reminds us that we must be willing to take that difficult road. We all have a road. No one else can walk it for us. Every road implies suffering and brings with it different kind of tragedies, kind of exiles in our life.
Nevertheless, we can all be sure of one thing: if our heart is in the right place, that road leads us to where we want to go. It leads us to Christ.

4. How do you read your story? 

When you look back at your life, don’t you wish you could erase a few sins? Avoid a few mistakes? Take advantage and appreciate certain moments? In his letter to the Romans – a reading that at times accompanies the reading of the genealogy in Matthew – Paul reminds us – Brothers and sisters: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rm 8: 28).

Remember that the list of names in the genealogy is full of sinners. They were men and women that screwed up…  a lot.  Yet, somehow, by God’s providence, they all lead in one direction: the coming of Jesus Christ. We should apply this truth to our own lives and how we read our own stories. Try to take a step back and ask God for the grace to see your life as He sees it. Try to discover how in both your weakness and your strengths, in the tragedies and the triumphs, God has been present, leading you closer and closer to His son.

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