Matthew: what’s in a name?

There’s a lot of death around at the moment.

Typhoon in the Philippines, a crashed helicopter in Glasgow, two young teenage girls mown down and killed by a car driven by an aquaintance, a 5-year-old boy diagnosed just 2 months ago with an agressive cancer who died this week, a pupil at school whose dad is dying of a brain tumour, two more pupils taken out of school yesterday to say their last “goodbye” to their great-grandmother to name but a few.

There’s a lot of death around at the moment.

Death is a taboo subject in our society and yet, as this second geneaology (Matthew 1:1-17) coming hard on the heels of the one in Luke’s Gospel reminds us, there is one thing which is certain in this life – we will all die, as will those who gave us life and those to whom we have given life.  Genealogies are in a way a list of endings and beginnings.

Life is not linear. We tend to think it is, living out as we do a succession of moments in time. We think of it as a journey from A to B – or should that be from B to D, from Birth to Death… and in one sense, maybe our own individual time-lines are just that – lines. However, in another way life is circular. We also speak of life-cycles and within our individual lives there are times and seasons which recur.

I’m a teacher. My working life is governed by terms – Autumn, Spring, Summer – and by a timetable which recurs on a regular pattern. I’m also a gardener. That part of my life is governed by seasons – Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn. My husband is a sailor. That part of his life is governed by the phases of the moon and the tides – Spring and Neap tides come round regularly twice a month.  And in these genealogies we see that the larger life of our societies are governed by the cycle of birth and death – an endless succession of beginnings and endings.

These genealogies put the life of Jesus into context. He was a real man, born in a real place and at a real time. He was part of that unending cycle of births and deaths. And that is awesome – God comes to us and takes upon Himself the same limitations as we live with day in and day out. And by taking that specific identity upon HImself – a particular man in a particular place and from a particular line of ancestors – and transcending it and becoming the Man for all peoples, not just those who shared His cultural and religious context, He shows us that we too can transcend our backgrounds and find a larger sense and meaning for our lives than would otherwise be possible.

And His willingness to enter fully into our humanity gives us a starting point when walking alongside the relatives of victims of typhoons, crashes, hit-and-run deaths, childhood and other cancers… He is in all of the beginnings and endings and new beginnings, helping us to find meaning and hope in the face of the agonising scream of despair “why? why me? why my child/parent/friend? why?????”

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