Homilette for Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 1:1-16.18-23)

We sometimes speak of the patriarchs of Israel, and we hear in today’s gospel mostly male names in the lineage of Jesus. Yet women of Scripture regularly exemplify great virtue. The four mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy are no exception.

Tamar was Jacob’s son Judah’s daughter-in-law whose husband died without giving birth to a child. As was the custom, Tamar was then given to her husband’s brother, the infamous Onan, so that her original husband’s family line would continue. Because Onan selfishly did not wish to have children by Tamar, he too died prematurely. There was a third brother whom by right Judah should have given to Tamar, he Judah refused to do this out of fear. Tamar then resolved to show the critical importance of family over personal desire. She dressed as a prostitute, was propositioned by Judah, and gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah. Judah learned the need of self-sacrifice in raising children.

Rahab was an actual prostitute of Jericho who came to believe in God from the story of Yahweh bringing the Israelites across the Red Sea. At the risk of her life, she became instrumental in the Israeli occupation of the Promised Land. Ruth, another non-Jew, refused to abandon her widowed mother-in-law Naomi and the God of Israel when her first Jewish husband died. Later she married Boaz, and the two became great-grandparents of King David. The former wife of Uriah, and mother of Solomon, is nameless in the gospel text but most people remember her as Bathsheba, whom the adulterous David seduced. She is not so much a heroine as a victim of the rapacious king.

As the stories of the other women mentioned in Jesus’ lineage, Mary’s motherhood is unconventional. She miraculously bears a child through the Holy Spirit. Matthew, unlike Luke, does not dwell on her virtue. Nevertheless, she silently follows her husband Joseph in doing God’s will for Jesus her son, the Savior.