Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Sept. 8 at St. John Center in Little Rock for permanent diaconate class.
One of the most eye-opening and humanizing things I ever did was develop an interest in family history and genealogy. There hidden in our family tree are the people who formed the people who formed us — including the full range of the human condition: the good, the bad, the boring and the bizarre, which goes a long way to explaining the quirks of relatives who are living today. Roots can really make you human, in the best sense of the term.
Today as we celebrate your candidacy for the permanent diaconate on the feast of the birth of Mary, our Gospel reading contains Matthew’s version of Jesus’ genealogy. His message is that when God became man in Jesus born of Mary, it was not merely a matter of taking on flesh and bones. Jesus took on the human condition in the full sense of the term — and his family tree included the good, the bad, the boring and the bizarre. There was Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel to whom he could point with pride — persons of faith who took real risks to do what God wanted. But there were also some unsavory characters. You want dysfunction and incest? Read in Genesis 38 the bizarre story of how Tamar came to conceive Perez by her father-in-law Judah. You want sin, adultery and murder? Read how Solomon was sired by David, who earlier had committed adultery with Bathsheba, whose husband he then killed to cover up his sin. You want misogyny? The only women mentioned by name are those who were foreigners like Ruth and Rahab, or were guilty of serious sin like Tamar and the wife of Uriah. You want stupidity? Read about Jesus’ ancestor King Rehoboam whose poor leadership caused the kingdom to be split in two. And then there all those people who we don’t know anything about; the other kings of Judah who were ineffective and unfaithful to God; and Josiah and Hezekiah, reformers who came too late; Zadok, who restored the priesthood after the return from Babylon. Something for everybody!
When we read this genealogy at Christmas, we typically think of baby Jesus, innocent and undefiled, lying sweetly in the manger. But Matthew gives us the rest of the story: that even though Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, his roots were very human — and thus he proclaims to us a Jesus who took on the weight of the human condition in all its ambiguity and complexity. Jesus has great relatives in his immediate family — Mary whose birth we celebrate today and Joseph, what could be better?
But like all of us, his family roots were a whole ‘nother story. And it is here that Jesus undertook his great work of redemption. He was like us in everything but sin, and that “everything” included even a complicated family heritage.
In defending the truth of Jesus’ full humanity (without denying in any way his divinity), the early Fathers of the Church continually proclaimed that “what was not assumed was not redeemed.” So if we have been redeemed by Jesus, part of the reason is that he took on the human condition in the fullest sense of the term.
You candidates for the permanent diaconate are on a path to becoming ordained ministers of the Church. As such, you will encounter human brokenness in many ways and will need to deal compassionately with everyone you meet, including those people who are hard to love. People like some in Jesus’ genealogy — people with some of the same brokenness that you find in your own ancestors or in your own self and your own family. And other people who are just as inspiring as some of the inspiring people in Jesus’ lineage. If you study the history of our diocese, you will find many people who lived their Catholic faith courageously at a time when it wasn’t easy to be a Catholic in Arkansas. But then also there were those who abused children and adolescents.
The good, the bad, the boring and the bizarre — all of us are gathered here today as members of a single human family writ large, all of us brothers and sisters of each other.
Jesus is the head of our family and Mary is our mother ... and what a joy it is to celebrate her birth today. And to celebrate your admission to candidacy for the diaconate.
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