A couple of months back NBC premiered a new series called Who Do You Think You Are? that documented the genealogical investigations of various celebrities. From what I recall this was the brainchild of Lisa Kudrow, probably best known for her role as Phoebe from the hit comedy Friends, whose interest in genealogy begin with a personal search for her own roots.
Kudrow does not appear on the show until the third episode but it is the second that I am going to comment about. The second episode featured former Dallas Cowboys
running back Emmitt Smith
. Being African American
, Smith was bound to run into some dead-ends, which he did. But he also found some closure and a reaffirmation of the dignity of his ancestry and the struggles of those who were treated worse that horses by white Americans
I took from the program a very important lesson on how the importance of knowing our family history so as to better honor our families and value the dignity of the human
person. We know all too well that one of the best ways to subjugate people is to dehumanize them. In order to do that the aggressors must eliminate any similarity between their own and their victims. If one looks past the language and customs of the victimized group, the aggressive or conqueror cultural group sometimes has difficulty in completing the task of dehumanizing them.
It is my observation that American
slave owners did the job of dehumanization so well that they truly looked at Africans as nothing more that monkeys with speech. Essentially looking on these “original” peoples as having nothing more in common with humanity than a dog or a horse. In fact, Smith was thrown aback while doing research in Virgina. Upon examining the records that showed his great, great, (maybe great again) grandmother Mariah was sold at 11 along with a saddle and some other horse-related item, the historian whom he was with presented him with a booklet on horses from the day. The booklet affirmed in written word what the terms the historian used in reference to the sale and “breeding” of slaves just like “livestock” yet horses and other domesticated animals were far more valuable to the owners than the humans
they purchased and felt they owned. I too felt shocked when I realized how ingrained this evil was (and is still in some areas) in the American psyche.
The story of Smith’s family and the perseverance of Mariah and how the hand of God
is visible in her life and eventually his is touching, meriting prayers and hopefully moving all of us to offer prayers for the souls of our family who may continue in purgatory.
Of course watching Smith’s journey inspired me to think about the Gospels of St. Matthew
and St. Luke
and who each them presented a genealogy of Jesus. There are slight differences in the presentation of both but I attribute this to the fact that both saints wrote for different audiences: St. Matthew to the Jews, St. Luke to the Greeks.
The genealogies of Jesus
are vital because they fulfill the prophecy concerning the Messiah
and his son
-ship from the house of David. Jesus’ lineage is also shown as extending all the way to Adam, which provides proof that all humanity is descended from one earthly father in Adam and that, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ
shall all be made alive” (RSV). This means that the Adam was our father into Original Sin, Jesus (who is the new “Adam”) is our father into reconciliation with Himself for Jesus is God.
The genealogies of Jesus also show that His human lineage was filled with the best and the worst of mankind and both Jew and Gentile. This demonstrates further that Christ’s work of redemption was for all and Who was like us in all things sans sin (Hebrews 4:15
The Gospel of St. John
also provides us a more “divine” genealogy:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God;
all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.
He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;
who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
(John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, `He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'”)
And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (John (RSV) 1)
If you have an hour, please view the episode
and meditate on the dignity of the human person and the importance of honoring our mothers and fathers – all of them. Our genealogy are the root of our dignity as we all come from one set of parents Adam and Eve
who were “created in the image of God, [a]s a being at once corporeal and spiritual” (1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church
362). Our lineage is both material and spiritual and we must honor both through Christ Jesus
, the Word made Flesh – God incarnate.