Because God Became Man (Despite His Flawed Human Ancestors)

This day is just beginning, but I can’t let it go forward without mentioning yesterdays’ Gospel reading. It is from Chapter 1 in Matthew and it is the genealogy of Jesus. Here the gospel writer goes to great pains to show that Our Lord and Savior is indeed descended from the line of King David.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling with portraits of Our Lord’s earthly ancestors. After reading this post, you may think that earthy is a better description of them.

I work in an archive and many of our patrons come to our repository in order to research their family history and genealogy. It is a fun hobby for many, and though some pursue it in order to prove they are related to famous founding fathers or so they can join patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution, etc., most just want to know where their families came from.

Who are my forefathers? Were they like me? In this land of immigrants, when did my family arrive here? Were they good people? Were they famous, or rich, or generous? Am I descended from royalty, or from scoundrels? The riddle of how you came about waits to be solved, because the cast of characters in your background is both deep and wide. Interestingly, many lose heart when nothing special turns up, or they discover their great-grandfather was a horse thief and they are repulsed. Oops!

Our Lord’s genealogy has it’s share of wonderful peculiarities. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his human line has some very interesting characters, let me tell you. Some have even called Our Lord’s human ancestors a veritable rogues gallery. Forget horse thieves, how about some liars (Abraham, Isaac), adulterers (David), murderers (Manassah), fornicators (Judah), polygamists (Solomon), and harlots? They are all here.

Let’s look at Manassah for example. This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Manasseh, also spelled Manasses, king of Judah (reigned c. 686 to 642 bce). During his long and peaceful reign, Judah was a submissive ally of Assyria. In the course of his reign there occurred a revival of pagan rites, including astral cults in the very forecourts of the temple of Yahweh, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution; hence, he is usually portrayed as the most wicked of the kings of Judah.

Sheesh, that’s right! He even sacrificed his kids to Moloch. And you thought it was bad nowadays? Good news though. By the grace of God, Manassah repented and turned things around. Whew! You can read all about it right there in 2 Chronicles, chapter 33.

And how about the ladies in the line, huh? Strange enough that women are included at all, given the patriarchal society of the Hebrews. Maybe the gospel writer hopes to clean up the reputation of this line a little bit with a brace of impeccable women? Not hardly. First up, we get the Gentile woman named Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law in order to get pregnant. Whaat?! That sounds like something out of an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, doesn’t it?

See, that was after her first husband, a fellow by the name of Er, “greatly offended the Lord; so the Lord took his life.” Gulp! So Judah (see list above) orders Er’s brother Onan to do his duty and “unite” with Tamar so she could have children. Onan, “spilled his seed on the ground”, offending the Lord and he lost his life too. Which led her to dress up like a hooker, get Judah drunk and seduce him. I can’t make this stuff up, folks. Go check out the story in Genesis, chapter 38.

Next up, we have Rahab the harlot, so you know what she did for a living. Did I mention she was into espionage as well? And she too was a Gentile, a Caananite. So much for the racial purity aspect of Christ’s human lineage. Now, Rahab aided Joshua and his men when they spied on Jericho. So she was a hooker and a traitor? Yep. Picture Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, hiding a couple of spies on her roof and you get the picture right. When the ruler of Jericho asked her to send out the men, she lied and said they were already gone. They didn’t bother to go in and check (they probably didn’t want to be seen in Rahab’s digs). Again, go read about this episode in Joshua Chapter 2. She too is in the cloud of witnesses though due to her faith. You don’t believe me? See Hebrews chapter 11.

And then there is Ruth, the impeccable woman out of this bunch. And again, not Jewish (how can this be?!) Anyway, she married a nice Jewish fellow name Boaz, and lived happily ever after. She had children and had a son who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, so she is David’s great-grandmother. There is a tiny book all about her in the Old Testament, and you should take a look at it. The filial piety practiced by Ruth is the kind that Wu Li, SJ, and my other Chinese Catholic friends, are very comfortable with. And that goes for me too.

Last, but certainly not least, we round out this list of femme fatales with “the wife of Uriah”, you know, Uriah the Hittite? That was the good soldier whose wife David slept with, which makes this next lady none other than Bathsheba. All kinds of wreck and ruin came about as a result of her and David getting together. She gave birth to Solomon, who I mentioned earlier as the future polygamist and polytheist.  Get all the details on David and Bathsheba in good ol’ 2 Samuel, chapter 11.

I don’t think you need any more examples from me regarding the incontrovertible fact that God works His Will through us flawed human beings whether we see the big picture or not. God promised a Messiah, and I would wager that many of the people on this family tree had no idea that all along God’s Will was working through their lives to bring about the Incarnation. Is it any wonder that Mary, would exclaim, “how can this be?” Because aside from being a virgin, she knew her family line was a train wreck. Maybe even more so than yours or mine.

In my favorite Old Testament book, Qoheleth put it best when he writes,

God made everything fitting in it’s time; but He also set eternity in our hearts, though we are not able to embrace the work of God from beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

And Our Lord speaks volumes when He says,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.(Matthew 9:13)

Maranatha, Lord Come!


    The problem that I have is that by the readings, cites and quotations that you discuss as well as the readings that I have done so far in the Old Testament (through Macabees II), it seems not only did Jesus come for sinners and not the righteous, but that he actually ignores the righteous. It seems God prefers the sinners over those who try to do right. The prodigal son is preferred over the good son. Joseph (not Jesus' foster father) seems to be the only truly good man in the Old Testament who prospered (although only after he was put through slavery, etc). The message seems to be to be a jerk and God will love you, but be a good person and be ignored.

  • Frank

    Gary, thanks for reading and for you comment. Perhaps other readers can join this discussion too.Jesus is very harsh towards the self-righteous and the hypocritical. I think the key thing to remember here is that "all have sinned" and that Our Lord surely knows this.St. Paul expounds upon this in chapter 5 of the letter to the Romans. Even Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes writes, Wisdom is a better defense for the wise man than would be ten princes inthe city, yet there is no man on earth so just as to do good and never sin. (7:20)See also 1 Kings 8:46, 2 Chronicles 6:36.Christ came to save all mankind, as all of mankind sins.Our Lord explains salvation to Nicodemus in John chapter 3.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to savethe world through him.(John 3:17)

  • Frank

    What was God to do in the face of this de-humanising of mankind˜this universal hiding of the knowledge of Himself by the wiles of the evil spirits? Was He to keep silence before so great a wrong and let men go on being thus deceived and kept in ignorance of Himself? What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done except by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ?St Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation of the Word

  • Anonymous

    Hi Gary. I think God seeks out all people. However, God sees not just the actions but also the heart and he looks at people's intentions. More importantly, He doesn't care about the past. If at this moment, you seek Him, He will take you. In the story of the prodigal son, the 'good' son is really not good – he is consumed by jealousy and selfish thoughts. Why does he not rejoice in the repentance of his brother, in the relief of his father? Also, God did seek out 'good' people – Peter was a regular guy, I think – not a big criminal or sinner. I don't think the others – James, John also were huge sinners. But they were seeking the Messiah. That being said… I guess the sinners, the prostitutes, the tax collectors felt a greater need for Him in their distressed state, so He was eager to alleviate their distress. Not sure if all this makes sense. I hope it helps a little bit. Rose

  • Father Richard

    I love the subtitle to your blog entry. It reminds me that God is saving us despite ourselves.

  • Anonymous

    Why did God work His plan through imperfect people? Because there were NO perfect people to work through …Why does God still work His plan through imperfect people? Because there are STILL NO perfect people to work through …Psalm 53:3 – "there is no one who does good, no, not one"Romans 3:10 – "as it is written, there is no one righteous, not even one"Thank God He sent His Perfect Son to save us!

  • Frank

    @Rose, thank you for you thoughts!@Brother, thanks for stopping by and I look forward to exploring your blog more.@Anon, 11:52, an excellent observation. Thanks so much for reminding us of this salient fact.

  • Lew

    It is through faith that we are declared righteous.No contribution form human endeavour will help. In fact it will hinder as it is an insult to the completeness of the sacrifice of Jesus once for all.We are saved to do good works, not by good works. Ephesians 2:8-10.Lew

  • Anonymous

    James 2:14 & James 2:17.Better do those good works. Just sayin'.