In a worship service recently, our pastor explored the genealogy of Jesus as presented in the book of Matthew. It was a thought-provoking homily about family ties. Alastair Roberts writes for Plough magazine about how we fit our own lives into the continuum of people that have come before us.
Moderns have become dulled to our own place in the generations, to the ways that we receive, bear, and pass on legacies, to the ways we are the harvest of former generations’ labors and how our own labors await the harvest of future generations. In Matthew’s genealogy, Jesus is introduced to us through the patterns of a long succession of earlier generations, as the fulfillment of their hopes, and their redemption from tragedy, frustration, and death.
It was interesting for me to read this passage at almost the same time I read a different article about how we must mentally disassociate ourselves from our predecessors. Lora Burnett seeks to help us separate from the past simply by changing the pronouns we use when referring to history.
The pronouns of history are not we, our, and ours, but they, them, and theirs. In classroom lectures and class discussions, using they, them, and theirs when examining the actions or beliefs or circumstances of historical subjects is absolutely essential to grasping the pastness of the past and the vast temporal distance that separates that time from this time, their world from ours.
It seems to me that in grappling with the past, we must admit, for better or for worse, our historical place in that past. That admission doesn’t mean we believe that our ancestor’s actions have the same weight on us as our own actions. It doesn’t mean we are primary movers in the events of history from before we are born. However, it does acknowledge that our places in life have benefitted from, or been hindered by, the place of our families, churches, nations and other groups to which we belong. This gets at what Roberts is putting forth.
I think it matters that my Mennonite ancestors fled Ukraine after persecution from Russia and ended up in Minnesota. Perhaps a change of events would have meant that I would not have been born, or would have been born in a different country, or — at the very least — had less of an understanding of current events illuminated by the light of historical perspective. In an age where identity stems from many different aspects of our being, I don’t think we should be closed to the traditional view of that identity being influenced by our lineage.