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  • Writer's pictureHelen Bent

Family trees (04-12-20)

Bible Readings: This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers… …and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon… …After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel… …and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

(Matthew 1. 1 - 2, 6, 12, 16 - 17)

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.

(Isaiah 11. 1 - 2)

A Thought

The Jesse tree is another Advent tradition, a kind of visual picture of the family tree of Jesus, showing his ancestors, a medieval version of BBC1’s ‘Who do you think you are?’ with all the usual unexpected characters and shocking surprises.

The family trees in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and in Luke 3. 23 - 37 are both probably bits of the Bible we glance at and then skip over without reading them properly. However, like the television programme, these lists are illuminating, not least because Matthew includes five women, one a prostitute and one an adulteress. One of the men is a murderer. Not quite what we might expect in the family tree of the Messiah!

Dating from medieval times, you can find the Jesse tree in stained-glass windows, church carvings, tapestries, illustrated manuscripts and icons. The most famous of these are to be found in the Lambeth Palace Bible and a stained-glass window in Chartres Cathedral. Both date from the 12th century.

These images have their origins in the prophecy of Isaiah, beginning with Jesse, the father of King David, and if we follow the family tree through, we eventually get to Joseph, who married Mary, who gave birth to Jesus. The pictures often include the prophet Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets as well as Mary and Jesus.

I can remember my dad spending hours poring over our family trees on both his and my Mum’s side of the family, and being fascinated that David and I appear twice on one, because our two families had intermarried in a previous generation. You can trace us down two quite separate branches of the family tree. I can also trace family members who were ‘church’ and those who were ‘chapel’, and those who specifically helped to shape my faith as I was growing up.

And as I reflect further, I can also name those who have influenced me across the years within the Christian family of faith. Older, wiser Christians who have handed on to me a legacy of faith for which I am truly grateful.

Why not Google ‘The Jesse Tree’ and reflect on some of the many images you can find there, ancient and more recent depictions of Jesus’ family tree. Think about who appears on your family tree and who, in your family and in the church, has influenced your faith?

A Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for our rich heritage of faith in the Bible, in our family and in the Church.

Thank you that they all point us to Jesus, our Saviour and Messiah. Amen.

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