The Gospel for the Feast of St Joachim, which superseded the green Sunday yesterday, sounds like the most boring of the year. It is hard to keep a straight face while solemnly singing all the “begats”. Nevertheless, I ploughed through to the end, and then ascended the pulpit and preached on it. If ever there was a Mass when one could have chosen some totally unconnected subject, this would seem to be it. But I like a challenge, so St Matthew’s genealogy it was.
I staved off the boredom of the congregation by mentioning in my first couple of sentences incest, prostitution, sex and murder (I find that usually does the trick!) I did this by highlighting the women Matthew included in the list, a most unusual thing for a Jewish genealogy, which was usually patriarchal. The first four women were either Gentiles or sinners or both. Tamar committed incest with her father-in-law; Rahab was the harlot in Jericho who betrayed her city for her life; Ruth was a Moabitess who had sex with Boaz on the threshing floor; and Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, whom King David got pregnant and then had her husband killed. Not the kind of great grandmothers you hope to find while researching your family tree!
But these women were all in the line from Abraham through David that ended in our Lord Jesus Christ. (I know the Matthean genealogy comes down to Joseph, but it is also that of Mary, since those in the Davidic line who were the “faithful remnant” waiting for the Messiah would be careful to marry within that tribe which was to produce the Messiah. Joseph is carefully called “the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.)
And I believe the reason Matthew included only these women was that he wanted to draw a parallel or a contrast with them and the Blessed Virgin Mary. After all, when Mary was found to be pregnant, she was assumed to have committed fornication, and her betrothed, Joseph, was intending to divorce her until God spoke to him in a dream. And her reputation clearly lasted in certain circles, such as the Pharisees quoted by St John who claimed to be the real children of Abraham, and not, like Jesus, “born of fornication”. So, in a strange way, right at the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew is affirming the Virgin Birth of Jesus, which he then goes on to describe explicitly.
God can use sinners to further his purposes, so we sinners can cheer up and see how he wants to use us, “the weak things of the world, to confound the mighty”. And the Gospel is for all races and peoples, a lesson it took the early Church in Jerusalem a while to comprehend. And it’s all there in the “begats”. So in seven years time when St Joachim falls on a Sunday again, we might not be quite so bored with the Gospel.