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Aug 10 Bishop James: The Begatitudes

I remember once talking to someone who had recently become a Christian and was steadily reading his way right through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. He had just reached the first book of Chronicles, and reported that he had got completely bogged down in the genealogies which take up the best part of nine chapters.

For example, “Arpachshad became the father of Shelah; and Shelah became the father of Eber. To Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg... and the name of his brother Joktan. Joktan became the father of...� (and so on and so on!) Why were they there, he wondered. What possible purpose could they serve, apart from satisfying the curiosity of ancient history nerds? Not surprisingly, he found it hard to derive any spiritual benefit at all from long lists of largely unpronounceable names. That set me thinking about the so-called ‘Begatitudes’ which crop up in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew, Chapter One) as well as the Old. The Bible’s various authors obviously believed that there was some value in writing them down. But what was it? Perhaps, for a start, there’s a reminder here of the fact that God works in and through history. Ours is an historical faith, involving real people and real events. The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ actually took place. They are not mere figments of someone’s symbolic imagination. That’s why the growing interest in genealogy in this country (fuelled by the internet) isn’t just a matter of people being fascinated by the names of their ancestors. They want to discover more about them, and about the societies in which they lived and all the circumstances of their lives. I have several friends who are currently researching their family histories, and they are all utterly absorbed by their discoveries. Behind each name lies a story and, even though we may never know much about Nadab, Abishur or Molid in 1 Chronicles, the very fact that their names appear serves to emphasise the way in which God has been consistently at work through countless generations. Another potential value of these genealogies lies actually in the anonymity of so many of the characters listed. Bunah, Oren, Ozem and Ahijah, the sons of Jerahmeel (the firstborn of Hezron) aren’t exactly names on everyone’s lips. Most of us have never heard of them – and, even if we have, wouldn’t remember having done so. These were ordinary, everyday people – just like us. But God knew each of them by name – as he knows each one of us. He loved each of them absolutely as he loves us. These people weren’t great heroes or heroines. They weren’t especially distinguished or famous. But their names are in the Bible – just as ours are in the Lamb’s ‘Book of Life’. God’s love isn’t confined to celebrities! And, of course, the Bible’s genealogies point ultimately to the way in which God fulfilled his promise that a Messiah would come ‘from the house of David’. Matthew is especially concerned to show how his purpose has been worked out through the centuries and through dozens of unlikely people. That is a process which continues today. So – we shouldn’t despise or ignore the Begatitudes. For those with eyes to see, they are not boring lists of long-dead nonentities – but rather a much-needed source of huge encouragement. James Newcome

  • The Rev'd Walter Wade Posted Monday 16 July 2018 It is with sadness we inform you ...