The Gospel of “begat”

Tree of Jesus window, Canterbury Cathedral

Tree of Jesus window, Canterbury Cathedral

Matthew 1: 1-17 is the “Gospel of the Begats,”the listing of the ancestors of Jesus . The older translation made for a difficult and tongue-twisting reading:

Abraham begot Isaac; and Isaac begot Jacob; and Jacob begot Judas and his brethren…

Salmon begot Booz of Rahab. And Booz begot Obed of Ruth. And Obed begot Jesse. And Jesse begot David the king. And David the king begot Solomon, of her that had been the wife of Urias…

after the transmigration of Babylon, Jechonias begot Salathiel. And Salathiel begot Zorobabel. And Zorobabel begot Abiud. And Abiud begot Eliacim…

And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary…

And then Jesus was begotten of Mary….

To make this visual, medieval artists made images of the Tree of Jesse in stained glass windows and paintings. The tree starts with Jesse and ends with Mary – though often with only a few of the descendants of Jesus, not the 42 generations listed by Matthew.

Jesus, God-with-us, the Word made flesh, has a history – full of heroes and villains and a few foreign women.

Jesus doesn’t refrain from involving himself in the nitty-gritty of our human existence.

We have a God who gets his feet dirty.


As the prayer from today’s Mass puts it (in my translation from the Spanish):

so that the Son of God
who has taken our human nature
may make us participants in His divine nature.

Out of the muck of our human history God calls us to share his divine life – by being God-among-us, Emmanuel.




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