Genealogies are supposed to be the boring part of the Bible, but this morning, in my coffee with God, I’ve been pondering Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. It’s clearly more than just a list of names; it’s telling us some important things that I can apply to my life right here, right now.
The geneaology is divided into sections: Adam to David – David to Babylon – Babylon to Christ. Since Matthew’s book is written to Jews, who knew their Old Testament, some of the points that he’s introducing by this genealogy might well be self-evident, and if not, the points would be driven home with full force through the rest of the book. What points?
1. Everything that we think is “enough” is actually “not enough” – Living in a state of perfection is not enough, because though our environment is perfect, we’ll still find a way to muck it up every time. (The story of Adam to Noah.) How many times have I thought that a different environment is all that I’d need in order to be at rest? It’s sometimes why people move, or paint, or get divorced–but we can set about to create a perfect state of things, an Eden if you will, and still manage to trash it because the problem is ultimately in every human heart, including my own. Having ideals and a vision is not enough, as evidenced by the period from Abraham to David. In this period God was fiercely for Israel; freeing, blessing, directing, and providing for them in every way. He gave them food in the wilderness and water from a rock. He gave them victory of enemies. He gave them an ethical code that would set them apart, and with the code came the promise of immense blessing (peace, wealth, health), if only they would live up to ideals God was setting forth. ”No problem,” said Israel, but of course their confidence was rooted, again, in the failure to understand their own desperate weakness. We make the same mistakes often, thinking that a great vision, or a grand ideal (think Obama’s “hope and change,” or the Tea Party’s… uh…whatever it is they say) will pull us all together and bring transformation. Nope. We can know the right thing and still do the wrong thing.
2. Though alone, nothing is “enough,” in Christ we always have “more than enough” – This is the main message of the genealogy, because it’s everywhere. Throughout the first two sections, from Adam to the Babylonian captivity, the list reads like a who’s who of dysfunctional people. Adam the liar, Noah the drunk, Abraham the fearful, Jacob the manipulative, Judah the hater who slept with his daughter-in-law but didn’t know it because she was veiled, as all prostitutes were in the day. That would be Tamar, who gets pregnant via the liaison and gives birth to little Perez, who’ll become part of the line of Christ! I could go on because, and this is the important point – everybody has a story of failure!
God is trying to tell us something here. A grand vision for a better world isn’t enough. The perfect environment isn’t enough. A great set of ethics isn’t enough. But Christ is more than enough. He’ll take us, right where we are, in the midst of the messes we’ve made–and if we’re humble enough to admit that we can’t sort it out on our own, can’t build a decent life on our own, he’ll be there for us to forgive, heal, empower, bless, and transform. Not just once, but a thousand times.
“Why then,” I ask myself this morning over coffee, “are our stories of failure so often hidden from each other, under layers of pious respectability?” I am increasingly convinced that such piety is the first step towards stupid arrogance, the first step on a long road of something that disgusted God, made Jesus terribly angry – it’s called religion – that nasty habit we all have of pretending we’re more than we are, and as a result, shutting off the real possibilities for transformation.
When I read the genealogy of Jesus I’m terribly encouraged, and dramatically realigned. The realignment comes from being reminded that nothing God offered was ever adequate, by itself, to cure the human heart. I’m thus stripped of the illusion that the next book, or conference, the next ideal, or vision, or redecorating project, or summit attempt, will fix more, or fix the world.
The encouragement from the fact that in spite of all the pretense, and violence, and jealously, and sexual failures, and victimization, and pain, and hate – God stuck with us, and sticks with us still. I just need to be honest enough to come to him as I really am: broken, and with empty hands. When I do, He’ll fill me with all that He is – and it won’t just be enough, it will be more than enough.