A Family Record of Jesus Christ

Anthony Zimmerman
December 30, 2003
Reproduced with Permission


My purpose is not to provide lectures about the Bible such as exegetical studies in classrooms are wont to do, but to focus on the sacred message itself, like a bee hovering over blossoms then stopping to extract their sweet nectar. In order to indulge my own limitations of knowledge about the texts allow me to dwell on highlights rather than compiling a comprehensive commentary. The Holy Spirit is my Advocate dwelling with me, and your Advocate also, dwelling with you, and since He is the One who inspired Matthew to write the Gospel, let us allow Him to teach and inspire us as we read. So let us begin with a prayer: "O Holy Spirit, be my Advocate and Companion as I read the Scriptures that you have inspired. Amen."

The articles are being sent on a quasi-weekly basis on the site CatholicMind.com, marked up by kind web master Matt Dula. This first article appeared on 30 December 2003. Father Jerome Novotny, omi, now kindly makes them accessible also at the Zimmerman Library: lifeissues.net/sub_section.php?topic=zi&subsection=li, beginning August 2004.

Chapter 1:1

(Note: The Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, is used in this writing, unless indicated otherwise.)

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

The name Jesus means "God saves" and is a shortened form of the longer appellation. Jehoshua. It is the proper name of Jesus. The title "Christ" is not a name but a title. It refers to His anointing by the by the Holy Spirit. When we hear Jesus speak, we are privileged to also hear the Holy Spirit who anoints Jesus to proclaim the message to us that has already been prepared beforehand in heaven. We hear also the voice of the Father who sent His Son to speak to us. Left to ourselves we live a limited secular life with our feet bound to the surface of this earth, but when we read the Bible, we open a window to peer into heaven to get a glance at our exciting future life even before we arrive there.

That the Son of God should become a Son of Man is a great mystery, is a marvelous condescension of love, kindness and generosity on the part of Him who is eternal, is almighty, is all wise, beautiful and splendid. Saint John Chrysostom, whose sermons I will quote from time to time, spoke that it is far more difficult for God to become man that it is for us to be adopted as sons of God: "For it is far more difficult, judging by human reason, for God to become man, than for a man to be declared a Son of God. When therefore thou art told that the Son of God is Son of David and of Abraham, doubt not any more that thou too, the son of Adam, shall be son of God" (Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, 2,3).

Chrysostom also admonishes his listeners to take interest and to keep in mind what Matthew writes about the ancestry of Jesus, because meditating on these things is good for our salvation:

For from taking thought concerning such matters, there springs in the soul some great good, tending unto salvation. For by these meditations we shall be able to please God Himself; and our mouths will be pure from insults, and filthy talking, and reviling, while they are exercising themselves in spiritual sayings; and we shall be formidable to the devils, while arming our tongue with such words; and we shall draw unto ourselves God's grace the more, and it will render our eye more piercing. For indeed both eyes and mouth and hearing He set in us to this intent, that all our members may serve Him, that we may speak His words, and do His deeds, that we may sing unto Him continual hymns, that we may offer up sacrifices of thanksgiving, and by these may thoroughly purify our consciences (Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, 2,9).

Our minds become sharper when we dwell on things of eternity, continues the saint, rather than on the everyday things of this life which are like smoke for the eyes:

Seest thou not even the eyes of the body, that when they abide in smoke they are always weeping; but when they are in clear air, and in a meadow, and in fountains and gardens. they become more quick-sighted and more healthy? Like this is the soul's eye also, for should it feed in the meadow of spiritual oracles, it will be clear and piercing, and quick of sight; but should it depart into the smoke of the things of this life, it will weep without end, and wail both now and hereafter. For indeed the things of this life are like smoke.

I love what Chrysostom said further on in his sermon about clearing away the smoke of worldly affairs so that we will be able to soar into heaven on the wings of the Spirit. It is no wonder that he is named Chrysostom, meaning "Golden Mouthed":

For nothing doth so hurt and dim the eye of the soul as the crowd of worldly anxieties and the swarm of desires. For these are the wood that feed this smoke. And as fire, when it lays hold of any damp and saturated fuel, kindles much smoke; so likewise this desire, so vehement and burning, when it lays hold of a soul that is (so to speak) damp and dissolute, produces also in its way abundance of smoke. For this cause there is need of the dew of the Spirit, and of that air, that it may extinguish the fire, and scatter the smoke, and give wings to our thoughts. For it cannot be that one weighed down with so great evils should soar up to heaven; it is well if being without impediment we can cleave our way thither; or rather it is not possible even so, unless we obtain the wing of the Spirit.

The saint then encourages us with the words that a word from Holy Scripture can soften even hard hearts: "Yes, for a word from the divine Scriptures, made to sound in the ear, doth more than fire soften the hardened soul, and renders it fit for all good things." With his good advice, then, we will study the words of the Gospel of Matthew, occasionally pausing now and again to listen to John Chrysostom. Born in 347 at Antioch in Syria, son of a military officer of the Empire. he studied rhetoric, was eventually ordained and became famous as a preacher in the main church of Antioch. His ninety sermons on the Gospel of St. Matthew date from this period. In 398 he became the Patriarch of Constantinople and preached there in the great basilica. The Empress Theodoxia was not always pleased with the sometimes caustic messages which she imagined were aimed at her personally. He was soon on his way to exile in Armenia (404), was recalled at the insistence of the Pope, but died soon thereafter from the hardships.

We ask why Matthew begins His Gospel with a list of the ancestors of Christ going back to Abraham, a human ancestor with flesh and blood, one well known to the Jewish people of his time. The answer may be that he already responds to a heresy that would deny that Jesus had a real human body. Very early in the history of the Church heretics found it too much to believe that the All Holy God would be so humble, so obliging, so common, as to really take unto Himself a human body like our own; that His feet would get dusty while walking on the roads of Palestine. Some heretics claimed that He looked as though He had a body, but it was not a real body like ours, only a spiritual resemblance of a body. This heresy, called Docetism from the Greek term meaning "Resemblance," thought they did honor to God by denying that Jesus had a flesh and blood body such as ours.

But when we look upon Jesus not only as a having a body, but being born as a Baby, we get the meaning of His coming. Bodies are precious, are beautiful, are God's gift to us, and we should all be humble like Jesus, we should be like little children who are dependent on God and nature, we should live out our lives in bodies and so make us worthy of rising with our bodies into eternal glory.

The First Epistle of John admonishes that only those who believe that Jesus is truly human belong to God: "Many false prophets have appeared in the world. This is how you can recognize God's Spirit: every spirit that recognizes Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, while every spirit that fails to recognize him does not belong to God" (1 John 4:1-3). By listing the ancestry of Jesus, even in his telescoped and idealized list, Matthew proclaims that Jesus was truly a human being, with a body such as we all have.

It is important to know, however, that Jesus is not a human person. He is a Divine Person, Son of the Father, with two natures, one divine, the other human. We confess that this One Divine Person has taken to Himself a created human body and soul. His human nature is a created human soul animating a created human body. He is not two Persons, one Divine, and another human. All that Jesus does, He does as God even while living in His human body which is animated by a human soul. It is wonderful to know that we learn how God sees and thinks when we see how Jesus thinks and acts in the Gospel story.

(To be continued.)