Matthew had been a tax collector. He was intimately familiar with
debits, credits and balances, and was, in a sense, closer to
the Mathematekoi of Pythagoras – who understood the world
and reality at large in terms of numbers, not as analogous
to reality but as constitutive of it — than he was to, say, the
minutiae of Mosaic Law which also, to a lesser extent, was iterated
in terms of numbers.
Matthew's facility with logical things that culminated in correct
conclusions, the purpose to this otherwise tedious preface to his
Gospel is to legitimize the Christ as the Son of David, an attempt
at a kind of Rabbinical “proof” necessary to establishing the legitimacy
of Jesus as the Christ. The genealogy numerically affirmed what
Mary already knew without counting.
we say, as in the Shakespearian Sonnet, “How do I love Thee, O,
my God? Let me count the ways — for I have the numbers
nailed down.” And yet Jesus Himself admonishes us against this:
praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will
be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your
Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Saint Matthew 6.7-8).
We are urged to pray incessantly, but not mindlessly, not for the
sake of achieving a “numerical superiority”
as though we can overwhelm, overcome, God by our incessant utterances
said largely in rote — and achieve a higher “score”
than our Publican neighbor.
Rather, think of it like this: if another
dared speak this way to us, we would
certainly part ways quickly, realizing that this man, this woman,
is mumbling something of which we happen to be the opportune and
unfortunate occasion. I do not understand her as speaking
to me! She is reciting something to me that appears to have
little to do with me, and which really is not being said, in any
meaningful way, to me. Her words are many
– but they do not qualify as talking to me.
She will nevertheless leave satisfied that she has communicated
well with me simply because she has said much.
We are often like that with God.
We are more concerned with numbers – especially the fulfilling of certain numbers – than with speaking to God from our hearts as we would speak to a real Person.
Any prayer uttered quickly and by rote, for the sake of its simply having been said, fulfilled, is at least implicitly disingenuous. It is not entirely unlike our asking one another upon meeting, “How are you?”. We do not really want to know, we largely do not care, and we say it as a matter of convention. We are sick as dogs, and reply, “Good, and you?” They say they are “well”, too, although they are sick as dogs, also.
It is meaningless. We utter words, sounds, only; fulfill conventions that are largely empty and would really be better left unsaid. We know this. And still do it ...
is not always the case. But it is, especially in congregational
prayer, in group prayer, very often the case. We have said our Rosary,
droned through all ten decades, picked up and moved on. We are satisfied.
We did the number.
Pythagoras and the Mathematikoi did not know better. We do. Sincerely ask yourself: is the manner in which you typically pray —Rosaries or other formal prayers — how you would speak to Christ in Person, pray to Mary who stood before you? Is this how you speak with your wife? Your children? Your neighbors?
Pray with your heart ... not on your fingers. God knows that you are saying much in saying little, and saying little in saying much.
One is praying.
One is counting.