Wednesday, December 08, 2010

For a generation

A bit more about Advent II.

"A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation." Psalm 22:30

"So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations." Matt. 1:17

Earlier tonight, after our Wednesday service of Evening Prayer at St. Benedict's, during a Bible Study that follows, a question arose about the Gospel reading we had this past Sunday (Advent II) from the 24th chapter of St. Matthew. I saw it coming, as we were reviewing that passage. The question was, what did Jesus mean in v. 34?

"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."

Many explanations have been offered over the years. Some say, he was speaking of a generation mentioned in v. 32, those who will see the fulfillment of "all these things." That is quite possible. However, it requires us to see the word "generation" only as we have come to use it in our own time, namely the people born roughly within the space of a few years who live in a certain time, all of whom will be dead and gone within a span. In fact, the word γενεά (genea), the original Greek word used, primarily means fathered, that is begotten or generated.

Therefore, in an odd sort of way, the quotation above from the twenty-second Psalm, by combining both meanings of the word "generation," helps us get to the point. If you read the opening of the Gospel according to Matthew, you will find only thirteen generations "from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ." The fact is, Matthew skipped one generation, a fellow named Pedaiah (I Chronicles 3:17-19); but why? Why did he name only thirteen? Was it to make a point? Was it to draw our attention to the words of the Psalmist?

"A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation."

What is the generation, then, or the seed counted as a generation? The best answer reminds us of the truth of the Gospel, of our Baptism, and of what it means to be "in Christ." It reminds us of a related word, a compound word that uses γενεά (genea), i.e. παλιγγενεσία (paliggenesia), translated in Titus 1:5 as "regeneration." By that regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, we are in Christ.

To be in Christ means that we have one Father. "God has no grandchildren" as the old saying goes. Indeed, that is absolutely true, for every Christian has the same Father, and that is God. No matter how long the Church is on the Earth, God has never become a grandfather. If the Church were counted as more than one generation, by now it would be the largest Ancestor worship cult in the world. But, the truth of the Gospel has, as part of its glorious declaration, that in Christ we are all children of one Father.

By παλιγγενεσία, each one who is in Christ belongs to the one γενεά that will never pass away. When the Son of Man comes He will find faith on the earth, for His Church will be present among the nations of mankind, one generation because no matter how many centuries it is preserved by God's grace, everyone in it belongs to the same household of faith and has the same Father.

That is the answer that best fits Matthew 24:34.


Donald said...

Dear Fr. Hart,

Thank you so much for this very clear explanation. It is very helpful.


Joseph said...

Thank your for the explanation of this. Very timely with all the "End Times" hysteria so prevalaent today (ie Harold Camping and 05/21/11 being Judgement Day)

There have been many going back to the first century that have considered themselves living in Endtimes

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

Generation, in Greek (genea) refers to race, kind, family, stock, breed. My Bible postulates that the promise is that the nation or family of Israel will be preserved unto "these things;" meaning that the Israelite race will survive down through the ages and witness the return of the Lord in visible glory along with the tribulation and the gathering of the elect.

An interesting explanation... but clearly there are others. Another Bible I own states that generation can refer to "these contemporaries of mine." If that is the case, Jesus may be referencing His initial coming within the lifetime of His disciples (Matt 16:28). The Old Covenant order is being terminated in preparation for the New Testament age.

From a Trinitarian perspective, I personally wonder if He had Pentecost in mind, which might tie in with your explanation of the generation of the Church.


Fr. Robert Hart said...


Several explanations have been offered for that phrase, and all I have done is favor the one that seems most consistent both with the passage and with the Gospel in general. What I reject completely (as I am sure you do too) is any notion that Jesus was wrong in His teaching.