Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mic 5:1-4; Ps 12; Mt 1:1-23
I remember a cheer/song we used to sing in the Army during National Service that went ‘Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, where we come from, so we tell them, we are from [insert name of unit/group]…’ The cheer doesn’t mean much in itself but is somewhat reflective of the need to examine everyone’s identities and connections in our day and age. Knowing one’s name doesn’t seem to be enough – people often ‘google’ a person they’ve just met so they know where they come from, where they’ve been educated, where they work and so on. We seem to come with histories and identities bigger than ourselves.
This seems to be the case with Mary and Jesus too. Matthew gives a detailed genealogy – 3 sets of 14 generations (that add up to 42 – 2, 3, and 7 are significant in Jewish numerology but that’s not the main point here) that traces the birthright of Jesus to Abraham and David. Matthew was writing to the Jewish Christian converts so it was important to give Jesus a ‘good name’ in the sight of these people. It was important that he had links both to the patriarchs (Abraham and Jacob/Israel) and the great kings (David and Solomon).
However, apart from the quite ordinary patrilineal genealogy (common as the Jews were patriarchal), Matthew found it important to include four (five including Mary) female names in the list. And these were not ordinary female names. In fact, they stand out as being special – women who were outcasts or at the margins of society that received God’s grace in special ways. Tamar was Judah’s daughter in-law who sold herself as a prostitute to Judah to perpetuate their line. Rahab as also a prostitute who helped the Israelites to take over Jericho. Ruth was a foreigner from Moab who stayed with her mother-in-law when her husband died. Bathsheba (Uriah’s wife) was the one David committed adultery with and became the mother of Solomon. All flawed in their own way but clear examples of how God uses the most unlikely people as vehicles of grace. (The men are equally flawed – Ahaz and Manasseh are prime examples but that too is for another time).
What does this show us? Most importantly that God works in all things (that also flows into and from the Ignatian dictum of Finding God in all things), even the flawed and seemingly weak. And perhaps, it’s a reminder that God works especially in those who are on the margins, away from the mainstream. This is very consoling, especially considering that the Lord himself came from a line that is at once great yet extremely flawed as well. And perhaps that’s the message for us as well – that we shouldn’t worry if we flawed histories or are fallible because amidst the flaws lies the potential for greatness. Our chequered pasts do not necessarily determine who we are.
Who we are is a gift from God – we are as great and flawed as any person in history. For instance, Joseph in the gospel shows us that we can be flawed and potentially make mistakes but need to constantly be aware of how God works in all things. God sent him a message in a dream. That might not happen for all of us but we need to be sufficiently aware and prayerful to connect with God in some way. He went from wanting to divorce her to finally being a protector and foster-father to the Lord. The very picture of what it means to love and serve the Lord in all things. The flaws were overturned by the faith that Joseph had.
An interjection here is necessary – it’s Mary’s birthday celebration and she’s hardly mentioned in the readings but this allowed me to bring her into the picture. In another sharing for Novena last week I mentioned that we can’t possibly give her a birthday present but we can accept her gift to us and pay that forward to others. Our blessed Mother is our model in all things, especially in her humility that’s born out of a deep faith and hope in the Lord. From great yet humble beginnings, she accepted one of the greatest tasks with a quiet gentle humility. ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.’ (Lk 1:38) She recognises that there’s the potential for greatness in all of us though we’re flawed, even though she herself might not be so. She’s without sin yet acts more humbly than most of us. That’s a model for us.
So we’re called to try to be the same – humble in our flaws, hoping for greatness that comes from God. Like Micah telling Bethlehem, least of tribes that amidst God’s seeming abandonment, there is potential greatness to unify Israel coming from within them. We might not have such dramatic calls (annunciation, Micah, Isaiah and the Emmanuel prophecy from the gospel) but we’re called to be holy, spread the Word, love our neighbours. We’re caled to find God in the ordinary, praying that we can find our greatness amidst the flaws. And not to let the flaws overpower our potential.
Going back to ourselves and the question of who are we and where do we come from, it might be better to question what are our flaws and what potential do we have to fulfill. And we continue to pray for our Blessed Mother’s intercession to follow her example – to have humility born of hope, to overcome our flaws and reach the potential God called us to.