The book of the genealogy of Marina, the daughter of Vito Jr., the son of Vito Sr., the son of Pasquale, the son of Ercole…
And that is all I know of my own patrilineal genealogy. By the way, naming even these few generations required sending a text to my dad requesting information. In comparison to my own (known) patrilineal genealogy, the patrilineal genealogy of Jesus given in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is very long. It even contains historical references, namely the Babylonian exile, thereby placing the generations in a known time period. The length and historical contextualization of the patrilineal genealogy of Jesus signifies to me, and to other readers, that, right away, Matthew is trying to communicate that Jesus is, in a word, important. He is central to the Gospel that is about to unfold.
Starting his Gospel with the patrilineal genealogy of Jesus also tells the reader something about Matthew and the audience that he seeks to appeal to. Matthew, often cited as the most “Jewish” of the Gospel writers, seeks to appeal to a primarily Jewish, or Jewish Christian, audience. The patrilineal genealogy of Jesus links the Gospel of Matthew, the first book of the (non-Jewish) New Testament to the figures of the (Jewish) Old Testament. By beginning the first chapter with something they are already familiar with, Matthew invites his Jewish readers to read further. By beginning the genealogy with Abraham, rather than with Adam as is the case in the Gospel of Luke, Matthew is again mindful of his Jewish audience; Adam is the father of all of humanity, while Abraham is the father of all of the Israelites. It is as if Matthew is making his Gospel not just accessible to, but also specific for, his Jewish audience.
Despite Matthew’s strong awareness of his Jewish audience, the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter is still helpful for all modern readers of the Gospel of Matthew, many of whom are Christians and some of whom are even non-religious scholars. Matthew, a wise author, chooses to orient his audience before immediately jumping into the “action” of the Gospel. This reminds me of how my teachers, especially my math teachers in elementary school, would spend the first two weeks or so of the school year reviewing skills that we had learned the previous year. They made it a priority to lay the foundation of what was to come. Without this review, the class would easily become very lost and overwhelmed with the new material. Being lost and overwhelmed going forward, whether it be in a fifth grade math class or in reading the Gospel of Matthew, is certainly not ideal, because it is the new material, what is to follow, that is most important. Beginning his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus is Matthew’s way of easing his readers into the Good News that follows.
Just as we ease into the Gospel of Matthew by reading Jesus’ patrilineal genealogy, it is important for us to ease into this new liturgical season of Lent. It is easy to get ahead of ourselves and forget that Lent is more like a marathon than a sprint. With this in mind, we must think about pacing ourselves. For it is in slow and thoughtful prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we will see the most transformation in ourselves this Lent. So do not fret if you have not yet decided what your Lenten devotional will be. Take some time today to pray about what you might want to sacrifice or add to your daily life in order to have the most transformative Lenten season possible. And if you’re still stumped about your Lenten devotional, might I suggest that you join the Ichthus in reading the Gospel of Matthew?
Marina Spinelli ’18 is a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator in Eliot House.