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Grandparents of God

July 26, 2009

Today, the usual green Sunday was displaced by the Feast of St Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And in three weeks time, the usual Trinity/Pentecost Sunday will again disappear, this time for the Feast of St Joachim, the father of the Blessed Virgin. This can happen only once every seven years or so; so we will enjoy the novelty.

The only church I have known well which was dedicated to St Anne was St Anne’s, Hoxton, in the East End of London. It was then completely Anglo-Papalist, with almost everything in Latin. On St Anne’s Day, there would be an outdoor procession which would wend its way through the local market, carrying a statue of St Anne and singing (so it is said) a hymn whose chorus was “Holy Anne, God’s  Gran, Pray for us”!

However, this may be as apocryphal as are the very names of Mary’s parents. They occur nowhere in the Bible, but are mentioned in several apocryphal Gospels. Of course no one can deny that the Blessed Virgin had  parents (that would be a miracle indeed!), and certainly by the time that St Helena came to Jerusalem and discovered the True Cross and many other relics, there was a church dedicated to them on the spot where tradition held that Mary had been born.

Be that as it may, as Eleanor Roosevelt famously remarked, the Gospel for the Feast of St Joachim is most extraordinary. It consists of the “begettings” – the long genealogy at the beginning of St Matthew’s Gospel, which traces the family of Jesus back to Abraham. And although this may seem a weird way of proclaiming the Gospel, a closer look will show quite differently.

In  the genealogy only four women are mentioned. Not that there is anything unusual about that: women were not made much of in heredity in ancient Israel – search as you will, you will not find in the Bible the name of the mother of King David, for example. But what is really gripping is that all four of the women mentioned were non-Israelites, and worse than that, three of the four were “no better than they should be”, as my Scottish granny might have put it.

The first, Tamar, had sex with her father-in-law, Judah, and gave birth to Phares; the second, Rahab, was a prostitute in Jericho who welcomed the Jewish spies and was therefore spared when the walls came down; Boaz, the son of this harlot, took Ruth to his wife. Unlike the other three, there was nothing “immoral” about Ruth, but she was a Moabitess, not a Jew. Then the last one is known to us as Bathsheba, though she is referred to in Matthew’s genealogy simply as the wife of Uriah the Hittite -which is the whole point, since King David (the epitome of Jewish Kings) had lusted after her, and to get her had arranged to have her husband killed so that he could marry the widow.

Now, I don’t believe that these four women are mentioned by accident. Matthew is far too careful a craftsman. I think that he was preaching the Gospel even in this strange genealogy, and answering the critics of the Virgin Birth of Jesus from Mary. Remember, Joseph at first thought she had been fornicating, when she was discovered pregnant. Only a direct revelation from God changed his mind. And from the very beginning, this dubious beginning was cast against Jesus, which explains the strange verse in John 8:41, where the Jews snipe at Jesus and say “We be not born of fornication”, meaning “Unlike you!” So one thing St Matthew may be doing is to show that the Virgin Birth is all of a piece with God’s working in the past lineage of even the great patriarchs and King David. After incest, prostitution and murder, not to mention marrying foreigners, why stumble at a virgin birth!

But whether that be so or not, he is making it clear that God can bring good from evil and that anyone can become an instrument of his will. Even harlots and women caught up in the wicked ways of men can become the transmitters of the line which would end in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Of course another problem is that the genealogy ends with Joseph, not Mary, and both Matthew and Luke make it very clear that Joseph had no part in the conception of Jesus. But this is only a surface difficulty, since Mary was also of the seed of David, or Joseph would not have married her. Those who were waiting for the Messiah – “the faithful remnant”- were conscious that he would be born of the Davidic line, and so they were very careful to marry only within that line. So Mary shared the same ancestry as Joseph.

All of this should make us very skeptical about those who shout loudest about “family values” and are then – gratifyingly – caught with their trousers down. I wonder what they make of the words of Jesus in this same marvellous Gospel of St Matthew: “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household”?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Stephen permalink
    July 27, 2009 7:50 am

    Father, I had such a close relationship with my own Grandparents, that i’m sure it helped influence my love of St Anne’s Feast! As i have mentioned before, i am so happy to have a Tridentine Latin Mass at the local parish here in New Jersey,that i don’t say this as a complaint, but i was mildly disappointed that the regular “Green Sunday” propers weren’t supplanted by those of this wonderful feast. i wouldn’t have expected it at the parish’s Novus Ordo Masses , because they seem obsessed with not pre-empting the readings of ordinary time, but i thought for sure Dear St Anne would be honored at the Traditional Mass! I’m glad St Clement’s keeps so many of the Great Feasts of Christendom!

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