Our Family Tree – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 1:1-17, Saturday before Fourth Sunday of Advent

Long, long ago, in kingdoms far, far away, a genealogy was the typical way of starting a book, especially the story of a great man. In his Gospel, Matthew shows that the Messiah was a descendant of  King David, just as the prophets had foretold. Question: Was Jesus’ family tree really so clear and perfect the way enumerates its roots and branches? Well, no. Genealogies weren’t really meant to be co clear-cut. In reality, there were skips and jumps in the enumerations. Some names might be related biblically, but not genealógically. So, no, Matthew’s version of Jesus’ family tree was not meant to be historically flawless.

Sa katunayan, ang angkan na pinanggalingan ni Hesus ay malayo sa perfect. You and I would take it for granted that the Son of God would come from a line of very holy people, wouldn’t we?  Well, no. You’ve probably heard this several times—but there are some really shady characters up that tree, some questionable fruit, some low hangers. The more well-known ones are Jacob, who deceived his father, Isaac, remember? Judah? He sold his brother, Joseph, out of jealousy and sibling rivalry. Tamar & Rahab? Prostitutes. Rehoboam? A king with 18 wives & 60 concubines bearing him 28 sons & 60 daughters. Nagmana ‘yan sa ama niyang si Solomon—who had, are you ready? 700 wives, 300 concubines! To speaking nothing of David, the greatest king of Israel—who was an adulterer with Bathsheba, and worse, the murderer of her husband who happened to be his faithful soldier, Uriah.

See, when God entered our humanity to be Immanuel, he was dead serious. So serious that he thought nothing of belonging to a questionable lineage. Sure, the lineage was brightened by the holy and the wise, but you can’t miss the fact that it was also darkened by the lustful, the power-hungry and some imbeciles. God is the God not only in broken humanity, but the God of broken humanity.

Besides teaching at Loyola School of Theology, I also have spiritual directees, both religious and lay. I try to meet them every month. And many times, when they leave the room, I’m the one who feels that I’ve been directed by them, instead of the other way around. Their relationship with God puts me to shame sometimes. Their constant desire to be better people makes me feel like I’m the worst person for God and want to be a better person myself. In other words, my directees inspire me more than I must inspire them, if at all.

But one thing binds me and my directees: we’ve all had to struggle with our brokenness. We’ve found out that the people we love very much were themselves often the source of our deepest hurt, our most painful memories, our lack of self-confidence, our paralyzing self-doubts. But in the end, we’ve figured that the people who love us most are themselves quite broken, too, and in many ways, and through no fault of theirs. Like us, the people they loved were themselves the source of their deepest hurt, their most painful memories, their lack of self-confidence, their paralyzing self-doubts. Marami na sa atin ang nangako sa sarili, “Kung anumang nakasakit sa akin mula sa aking mga magulang ay hinding-hindi ko na gagawin, lalung-lalo na sa mga anak ko at mga apo ko.” But for some strange reason, when we’re at our worst, why do we end up acting out the very behaviors that we swore never to repeat? Ever notice that? So, both our good and bad choices are significantly governed by our family trees, our trees that have grown with both straight and sturdy branches, as well as crooked and broken ones. We struggle to be better than our past, sure we do. But at the same time, we seem to keep breaking each other’s hearts just the same?

Do you know the meaning of the name, “Jesus”? The name comes from the Hebrew, “Y’shua”. We usually translate this as, “God saves.” Grammatically, our translation is in the declarative mood: “God saves(period)” But here’s something interesting. In the original and more correct Hebrew, Y’shua is in the imperative mood. “Yahweh, help (exclamation point)!” In Tagalog, “Dios, saklolo!” In Cebuano, “Yahwih, hilp!” Just kidding, “Ginoo, tabang!”

The Messiah who goes by that name, “Yahweh, help” enters our time, our space, even our lineage. He comes not just as “king” from a royal line of David—but really and more deeply so, the Messiah comes as help, as saklolo, as tabang in our inescapably broken humanity. And you know, sisters and brothers, he’s just what we need; because in all our brokenness, we cannot save ourselves. It’s impossible. That’s why Jesus’ other name is an exact fit to Y’shua or “Yahweh, help”: Immanuel, “God with us”. Look how his two names perfectly square away at each other: as a sharer of our humanity, Y’shua assumes in himself our cry for salvation, “Yahweh, help!” On the other hand, as a sharer of God’s divinity, Immanuel assures us that God answers, is always here, and is already healing us, is now saving us.

It is very beautiful, isn’t it? You can almost hear Jesus say, “How can I not love you, oh, broken humanity? I am part of your lineage. You are my genealogy. In fact, I am your deepest cry for help, and I am also the answer to that cry.” As we walk through Advent, we beg our Y’shua, our Immanuel, to help heal the weak and the broken branches of our families and generations. Jesus is our cry for help. He is also the answer to that cry.

Amen.

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