I was recently working with a student on the Ellis Island website. He was doing some work for history and was getting quite excited. He’d found records of his ancestor’s immigration to America. This child had been born in Russia and adopted in the U.S. as an infant. The records were not those of his birth family but those of his adopted family. And the child– normally a very unmotivated and hard-to reach student– was fascinated.
As I began reading Mark 1 today, this student came into my mind. As you may know, Mark 1 begins with Jesus’ lineage.
It’s almost a stereotype: long lists of who sired who is the very definition of what some people find boring in the bible. I’d be a liar if I claimed that I read them with same intensity that I’d bring to Jesus’ words. But I think there’s a lesson floating around in my student’s excitement.
I didn’t ask him, but I suspect what might have been fascinating for him is the idea that he was confronted with the reality that there were people who came before. Abstractly, we all know that we had great grandparents, and great grand parents, and great grand parents. But it’s hard, I think, for any of us, to really recognize that this nearly endless string of people were real people with flaws and talents and dreams and fears, until we are confronted with evidence for their existence.
The mere fact that our ancestors exist is not nearly as interesting as the realization that they made decisions which impact us today. If we are not adopted, they even carried some of the genes which we carry today. Their is this unbroken line, this invisible cord that links us.
I wonder if the people at Jesus time, and the generations after, I wonder if those lineages impacted them in the same way. I wonder if the lists of names, dates, and marriages in Mathew and everywhere else in the bible were a way of not only making the figures seem real but of also connecting them to the people reading.
To the best of my knowledge, I have no Jewish ancestry. At first blush, it might seem that the lineages are therefore irrelevant to me.
But that student I mentioned before? He was adopted. He had no biological ties to the records he was discovering. Yet I don’t think he could have been more excited, even if he had been born into his adopted family.
And so it is with me: I’m adopted, too. I’m adopted into Christ’s family. And if you follow him, you are, too.
We may not carry the same genes as those people, listed in those lineages. We may not be closely biologically related. But we are family anyway. They are interconnected with each other, and also interconnected with us. They made decisions which impact us, they changed the world.
And maybe this isn’t motivation enough to do an exhaustive reading of every lineage in the bible. But it gives me pause to read them a little closer than I might. These people are my ancestors, after all. They walked the earth, and they breathed the air, and they had hopes, and dreams, and fears… and that’s a pretty amazing thing.