My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
According to sound tradition, the Evangelist Saint Matthew wrote his gospel first, before the other evangelists. He wrote in the Hebraic language for believers who were Jewish, and begins his Gospel with the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh.
He gives an account of the genealogy of our Lord and the ancestors from whom He was descended, and hence he calls the Lord the Son of David and the Son of Abraham; for both of these ancestors received promises from God. To Abraham the Lord said, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” And to David He said, “Of the fruit of thy loins will I set upon thy throne.” For this reason the evangelist begins, saying: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Saint Matthew did not say, “The vision,” or, “The word,” as the prophets did. Whereas they began their writings with, “The vision which Isaias saw,” or, “The word which came to Isaias,” the evangelist said, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ.”
The prophets were speaking to hard-hearted men, and therefore, they said, “The vision,” or, “This is the word of the Lord,” that the people might be struck with fear and not spurn what they were saying. The Evangelist Matthew, however, was addressing men who were already believers, who were well-disposed and possessed understanding, and thus he did not use such expressions as the prophets did.
Furthermore, what the prophets saw, they saw with their minds; they contemplated things shown them by the Holy Spirit, and hence they referred to them as visions. Saint Matthew, however, did not see the Lord in his mind or in contemplation; he was with Him physically, he heard Him audibly, and he saw Him in the flesh, and therefore he did not say, “The vision which I saw or contemplated,” but, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ.”
Now, the name “Jesus” is a Hebrew name, which being interpreted is Saviour. And the Lord is called “Christ” or “Anointed One,” and this as both a king and as a priest, both of these being anointed with oil in their appointment.
He is Christ as a king, in that He triumphed over sin; and as a Priest, in that He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us. Moreover, the Lord Himself was anointed with the true and eternal oil, the Holy Spirit; for who else possessed the Spirit in the same manner as the Lord?
The grace of the Holy Spirit was, indeed, at work in the prophets and other holy men, but in Christ the work was incomparably greater, as the Holy Spirit is consubstantial with Him.
The Gospel continues, and begins the genealogy with Abraham, because he was the first to receive from God the promise that in his seed all nations of the earth would be blessed; thus it is from him that Christ’s descent is traced. Our Lord is that seed of Abraham in Whom all of us from among the Gentiles, who aforetimes were accursed, have been blessed.
The name Abraham is interpreted to mean, Father of nations, while Isaac means joy or laughter; thus, his mother Sarah said, The Lord has made laughter for me, meaning joy. The Evangelist does not mention Abraham’s other children, Ishmael and the rest of them, because the Jews were not descended from them, but from Isaac. Isaac was Abraham’s sole heir, inasmuch as he lived a righteous and pious life in keeping with his father’s will, and he had been given to his father according to God’s promise.
And so on does Saint Matthew give the lineage. Now, it was customary to trace a genealogy according to the male line; for a man is the head of his wife.
But you will notice that Saint Matthew in this genealogy also has mentioned four women: Thamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Urias.
Of these Thamar had an impermissible marriage, being united with her father-in-law. Rahab was a harlot. Ruth was a foreigner. And Bathsheba, the wife of Urias, was an adulteress.
Thus he shows that our Lord was not ashamed to be descended from such persons. Judah begat Phares and Zarah of his illicit union with Thamar. Salmon by fornication begat Booz of Rahab; Booz begat Obed by Ruth the foreigner; and David begat Solomon by the adulteress Bathsheba. Thus, the virtuous are in no wise harmed by the sins of their fathers, because each man is judged to be good or evil by his own deeds, not those of others.
It is precisely for this reason that Christ did come: not to evade our sins, but to take them upon Himself, to remove them, to destroy them and to put an end to them by His virtues. He came not as a judge, but as a physician, in order to heal us and to save us.
Now, this is one reason for including these women in the genealogy. The second reason is that the Jews, neglecting the virtues of the soul, were extremely proud of the nobility of their ancestors and boasted up and down about it. To put down their self-exaltation, Saint Matthew shows that even their greatest men did not keep the Law; some of them fell into fornication and adultery; others were born of illicit marriages; and so, in vain did they boast of their forefathers.
A third reason is that these women were an image of the Church of the Gentiles. just as their aforementioned husbands accepted them despite their involvement in various sins, so also did Christ will to betroth to Himself in his Church all of mankind, which had fallen into all sorts of sins. And as Christ did not shun kinship with such women, neither did He reject His betrothal to the Church.
Let us learn from this to be ashamed of our own sins, not those of our ancestors; not to be puffed up on account of our forefathers, but to look to our own virtues; not to reproach or despise those who, though from illicit unions, are themselves virtuous; and not to reject those who come to faith and repentance no matter their background.
Saint Matthew continues the genealogy, until ultimately we come to the final generations, as he says: “Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
Having come to Joseph, the evangelists did not stop with his name, but added, “the husband of Mary,” thus giving us to understand that it is on account of the Blessed Theotokos that he has traced the genealogy of Joseph. Since to reckon descent by the female line was contrary to custom, the evangelist strove both to adhere to the custom and also to show in another way that Christ was descended from the lineage of Abraham and David. By giving the genealogy of the betrothed of the Mother of God, he demonstrated what he sought to prove. Inasmuch as he established that Saint Joseph was of that lineage, it was clear that the Mother of God had the same ancestry; for it was considered improper to be betrothed to a man from any other but the same tribe and house or family.
“So all the generations, from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.”
The evangelist divided the generations into three groups to show that, though the Jews were ruled and well guarded by the judges until the time of David, and were governed and led by kings until their exile to Babylon, and were cared for and led by priests up to the Birth of Christ, they corporately did not acquire any advantage in virtue, but required the true Judge, King and Priest, Christ our God, to come and save them and all of us; for He took on everything for the sake of our salvation.
For this reason did the Lord will to have such forefathers, that in His own Person He might sanctify them by being born of them; for He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Let us sinners, therefore, show repentance and conversion from the depths of our hearts, and let us leave off our former evil ways, and cleanse ourselves of every impurity of ﬂesh and of spirit. For the day of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ is already upon us, on which we are called to receive the divine and life-giving sanctification of His most awesome Mysteries.
Let us guard ourselves carefully, brethren; let us uproot every impure and improper thought which proceeds from the activity of the passions, and let us purify ourselves in every way, that as many as have received absolution after self-examination and confession may partake of divine sanctiﬁcation.
It is a good thing, praiseworthy and conducive to salvation, to receive the most pure and awesome Mysteries frequently, because frequent reception means a frequent reception of life; as Christ Himself says, He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood dwelleth in Me and I in him; and He also says, Except ye eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, ye have no life in you. He that is joined unto the Lord is one body with Him, but they that separate themselves from Him perish.
Nevertheless, because of human weakness and difficulties, we are not allowed to approach the divine and awesome Communion without first examining ourselves and confessing (our sins); for he who eats the Body of the Lord and drinks His Blood unworthily is guilty of His Body and Blood, as the Apostle attests. Let us be diligent, lest we be found unworthy of such a blessing, and lest we be strangers to it, cut off from the saving grace of communion. But having prepared ourselves, let us draw near with a clear conscience, that we may be vouchsafed this gift and delight in the beauty of it, through the grace of Christ our true God and Saviour.