I always find it difficult to draw anything from listening to/reading the genealogical passages in St Matthew and St Luke’s gospels. Today, however, my priest gave a sermon on some of the significances of the genealogy provided in St Matthew’s gospel. Especially since the issue came up when I was studying Luke chapter 3 with two of my friends a few weeks ago, I thought I’d post here a summary of what my priest said (I hope I’ve remembered it accurately!), since I think it’s a fascinating entry point into what used to feel to me like a dry list of names. Although, I admit, I don’t entirely see how it fits into the list of names given. I’d be very interested to know which Church Father this schema comes from, and how exactly they explain it. But anyway, here is the thesis:
Unlike evolutionary science, Christianity teaches that history is consciously shaped towards purpose and progress. The history of Israel (in the Old Testament) is God’s revelation through His chosen nation. The history of mankind, and the history of Israel, worked towards a high point – Jesus Christ. Seven is a holy number in the Bible (and thus also in Christian theology), and in Matthew the genealogy given of Christ is to be understood within a framework of that sacred number. The number of generations given from Abraham (the founding-father of the nation of Israel) to David (the great king of Israel, from whom the subsequent kings of Israel were descended) is two times seven. I think the idea is that the generations of the kings of Israel, and then the generations related to the exile of the people of Israel, each also number two times seven (although I can’t quite see how this works in the list of names). Therefore Christ is the first of the seventh generation of seven – giving him the place of supreme sanctity. St Matthew thus highlights Jesus Christ as the most holy, and as the apogee and the fulfilment of Israel’s history.