We Americans always want to know what countries our ancestors came from. Evidently I am an English-Scotch-Irish-Norwegian-Cherokee…so far. There are probably more nationalities to be discovered.
About once a year I fall into the trap of genealogical research. I am fascinated by finding out where my ancestors came from, and I am always trying to push as far back into the past as I can. This time I glimpsed the 1600’s, but I always wonder how much further back I can see. Another person, another date, another place is always just around the corner.
I am a young man playing an old person’s game, but I have found a way to justify my fascination: I compare this research to sports. Working on a genealogy is sort of like filling out a March Madness bracket in reverse. I put myself in the winner’s slot and work backwards, trying to figure out what combination of genes, circumstances, and locations produced me.
Also, you won’t ever find me in a library staring into a microfiche machine or paging though old county burial records. I work more as a tomb raider than as a true researcher. Other people have been at this task for years, and many have been generous enough to post their findings online. Google makes it possible to just type in names and dates I already know until I come across someone’s research which intersects my own line several generations back. Whenever I find one of these intersections, I pillage the information for myself, hopefully making my Viking ancestors swell with pride.
I hit the jackpot whenever I come across some research that includes stories of the past. Without stories, each ancestor is nothing more than a name, a date, and a nearly unreadable tombstone. But with a story, I learn that my great, great, great grandfather spent twelve years in Washington seeking compensation for land he lost in the Indian Removal Act (ultimately Trail of Tears). I learn which Cherokee clan my great, great, great, great grandmother belonged to. I learn how many Tories my great (x7) grandfather hung for stealing horses during the Revolution. (In his defense, he was a sheriff. And they were Tories.) I learn which town in Norway my ancestors likely immigrated from.
Stories help me feel connected to these people, not because I am necessarily the product of these stories, but because the stories allow me to see them as individuals, men and women who lived lives and made choices and read books and sat up late some nights unable to sleep.
Stories also force me to acknowledge the good with the bad, however. I find both union and confederate soldiers in my lineage. I find slave owners on the one hand, and Cherokees who were forcefully moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma on the other. My Norwegian ancestors probably pillaged and burned the towns of my English ancestors, who were probably busy oppressing my Scottish and Irish ancestors.
But I can proudly say my ancestry is Texan free. Congratulate me on that one.
My genealogy is really pretty run-of-the-mill, mostly full of poor farmers whose families have been in America for a few centuries. I’m sure there are a few saints and a few sinners in there, and probably lots of normal people who are simply saved by grace like me.
Their stories humanize them, but little else. Certain choices they made somehow set off series of unique events that eventually resulted in my birth at a certain time and certain place and certain situation. But those same choices eventually resulted in lots of other births of lots of other people so distantly related to me that I doubt anyone could figure out the relation. So I’m nothing special.
Genealogies have fascinated me since I was a kid, when I would open the Bible and attempt to grasp some of its ancient genealogies. I know most people skip these, but I always liked them, as long as I recognized the names from the stories I had read. That’s why Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1 has always been the most intriguing.
The good and the bad in my lineage don’t even begin to compare with his. He is descended from a king and a shepherd, from a warrior and a murderer, from an adulterer and a man after God’s own heart. And that’s just David.
The best of the best and the worst of the worst are featured in Christ’s family tree, from faithful Abraham down to wicked Manasseh, and everyone in between. Five women are mentioned: Ruth and Mary are positive role models, while Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba are morally neutral at best.
In the end, though, this genealogy at the beginning of the NT does nothing more than say, “Here is how we got here. But now a new story is beginning, and neither the righteous dead nor the wicked dead have any say over what happens.” Christ’s path on earth was neither hindered nor helped by his ancestors’ good and bad qualities.
In Luke 3:8, John the Baptist challenged Jews who tried to say they were special because Abraham was their father. Jesus confronted the same attitude in John 8.
In a world based on status and connections, being a descendant of Father Abraham could be pretty important. Isn’t it all about who you know? But Jesus disagrees, and tells us that it’s more about who you are. Being a descendant of Father Abraham doesn’t mean anything unless you share the same faith as Abraham.
I would be no better off if I was descended from half the founding fathers, and I would be no more vile if I was descended from a family of bank robbers and bootleggers. I am just me. And I am glad I serve a God who was willing to be born, not just into a world of sinners, but into a family of murderers and idolaters.
I am very thankful for the godly heritage that has been handed down to me from my parents and their parents and beyond. But I am also very thankful that I can count myself as part of Father Abraham’s family tree.
Father Abraham, had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them, and so are you
So let’s all praise the Lord!