A few months ago, I took advantage of a two-week, free trial to Ancestry.com…you know that website that helps people find their family tree through a variety of historical records? I no sooner put in my information and created a profile when up popped a plethora of clues leading to the generations that came before me. I have to tell you, it felt both enlightening and a little invasive all at the same time.
Now, considering I only had 14 days to spend on this project, I had to work fast and I willingly admit that I didn’t put the people I found through a heavy vetting process. I may have doubled up on those who had multiple entries based on the spelling of their name, but who cares? If the dates lined up and made a certain amount of chronological sense, I assumed they were kin and added them to my chart. The way I see it is that these folks were all but forgotten prior to the Internet age and the least I could do was claim them if it was reasonable to presume we were related.
Over the course of the two weeks, I ran into a lot of dead ends. My grandfather’s family for example went dry rather quickly, but the family tree on my grandmother’s side was amazingly well researched. Apparently, I am connected to a guy named William Alyn who died in Buckinghamshire, England in 1589. There was also Johann Jacob Weisner (1691-1736) from Guendelshausen, Baden-Wuertemberg, Germany and a whole host of people who lived in North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia and Indiana before I came along. Aside from those I have photographic evidence of, I have no idea what they might have looked like, what their occupations were or if they did anything particularly noteworthy and yet, we are all bound by the one thing that transcends time and geography: our DNA.
Jesus came from a family as well. Although he was God incarnate and the second person of the Holy Trinity, He was also 100 percent human, which means He had DNA. He had relatives and according to today’s Gospel, He was connected to Abraham via 42 generations of people. Isn’t that amazing to think about? Yet, despite this lineage, His family does not read like a Who’s Who of Biblical heroes. Although Jesus is linked to Jacob, His line does not go through Joseph, the famed dreamer and beloved son of wife Rebecca. Rather, Jesus hails from Leah’s side of the family, a man whose claim to fame was helping his siblings sell their brother into slavery and then faking the boy’s death. Talk about coming from the wrong side of the tracks! But interestingly, Jesus is not akin to Moses, Sampson, Saul, Daniel or any of the prominent Old Testament prophets even though it seems like He should be. In fact, when you really stop and think about it, aside from a few interesting individuals such as David, Solomon and Jesse, Jesus’ genealogy is made up of a lot of unremarkable people with hard-to-pronounce names!
Nonetheless, I find today’s gospel very revealing. Not only does it validate the claim that Jesus is the Messiah that God’s people have been waiting for, but it showcases a fundamental point that is applicable in our own lives today: Greatness is not a birthright. It can happen at any time and anywhere. If greatness only begets greatness, then Jesus would have come from a royal lineage so long and unbroken, it would make the Windsors look like “new money.” His birth would have been heralded as a national holiday right from the start, He would have stepped up to His mantle right on cue (in a manner befitting His position in the world) and chances are, He wouldn’t have suffered such a grisly way.
But that’s not the way it works and Jesus is proof that extraordinary people come from ordinary folks all the time. Unfortunately without the benefit of hindsight, greatness is all too easy to miss. After all, how could anyone see that the adopted son of a princess would one day lead his people to the Promised Land? That a simple shepherd boy could slay a mighty giant, that a legendary peasant would pull a sword from a stone, or that a truck driver from Tennessee would be crowned the King of Rock and Roll? So with a handful of notable names and a fair amount of people coming from the same stock, how could anyone know that a carpenter’s kid from Galilee would grow up to be the King of Kings, suffer under the tools of his trade and save the world from its sins? Maybe they couldn’t.
That’s what today’s gospel is all about: the things that are evident, the things that go unrecognized and the greatness that can be found in every family no matter what their circumstances happen to be. Whether they live in a palace, a hovel or are stopping in a Bethlehem cave during the Census, greatness is all around us. We simply must learn to recognize it when we see it and know from Where that greatness comes.
Today’s readings for Mass: GN 49: 2, 8-10; PS 72: 1-2, 3-4 AB, 7-8, 17; MT 1:1-17