Matthew’s Gospel begins with a genealogy. So far in Luke, we’ve escaped it, and yet here it comes. All of those names that bewilder readers and seem so utterly pointless. Yes, there are some important names in the list. David is there, so we know that Jesus is descended from Israel’s great king, and therefore has some claim to political power, or at least a political critique. And Boaz is there, David’s great grandfather, who married Ruth, a foreigner, and not just a foreigner but a Moabite, a traditional enemy of the Hebrews. So we are reminded that ethnic purity and exclusion of others are ideas that can’t really fit with the story of the Jewish people, nor with the story of the followers of Christ that Luke is just beginning to tell us. And there are the patriarchs, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, one confused, one bland, and one crafty, to remind us of the oldest stories and that those stories tell us about people who were far from perfect and whom God chose anyway, just as Jesus will choose the flawed and fumbling disciples.
We are able to receive and hear the Holy Spirit because it is speaking to the divinity that is already inside us, that has been there from the beginning. And that divinity isn’t a homunculus, a little upside down man hidden and protected from our everyday lives. That divinity is in every part of us. It’s cellular and system-wide.
This is a lot for Luke to reveal within a list of names, but that’s part of his point. We might be shot through with the divine, but we should remember that each of us is only one among many. There is a subtle subversion of human grandiosity in this list. Every human being is the protagonist of her or his own story. Our consciousness is constructed in such a way that we can’t help being at the center of our own universe. Yet each of us has to come to terms, at one point or another in our lives, that we are simply one of eleven billion people who are each just as grandiose in their thoughts about themselves as we are. And if we allow ourselves to think historically, we seem to become even more insignificant. An estimated 108 billion people have lived upon the earth. Even the famous ones aren’t really famous within the grand sweep of time.
God’s inclusion at the end of Luke’s genealogy hints at how we can deal with this, and not despair in the face of our own insignificance. Yes, we are small and finite. But we are also part of divinity, God’s gifts to a creation that God gives us in return. The Gospel will tell us, and our spirituality will affirm for us, that God knows us, every part of us, down to the smallest hair on our heads. No matter the confines of our individual human lives, we are known and loved by the eternal, forever. And we are helped to turn away from our grandiosity by acknowledging that whatever gifts we have, whatever talents and personal appeal, are not entirely ours, but God’s, and our only real task is to use those gifts to reveal the divine in ourselves and others, and work for justice and the repair of the world.