“Hello, I’m your host, Guy Smiley. And now it’s time to play Fun with Genealogies, that wacky Bible trivia game in which our contestants try to see who can come up with the most creative way to stay awake while reading biblical genealogies. Last week we had a woman who stapled her eyelids open and a man who installed an IV drip of Starbucks into his body.
Our contestant this week is Father Charles Erlandson who has a unique method for staying awake while reading a biblical genealogy. Father Charles, some have called you a fanatic or a space cadet. Would you tell us about your novel approach?”
“Sure, Guy. I’m going to attempt to read the first genealogy in the New Testament, from Matthew chapter 1. I plan to actually read every word and study the names, looking for special significance.”
“Father Charles, if I may. Hasn’t that method been tried before and been shown to induce extreme states of somnolence?”
“Depends on what?”
“What does somnolence mean? Actually, most people just skip over the genealogy of Jesus Christ. But I’m going in. Here I go.”
It’s strange, isn’t it, that the first words of the New Testament would be some of the least read of the words of the New Testament? Doesn’t it seem unseemly for God to have begun things like this? Now if He had started with John, I could understand. The majesty of John 1 matches the majesty of Genesis 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
But to start with this: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, yada, yada, yada . . . “
Actually, there are a lot of stimulating things I find in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ. It’s different from Luke’s and appears to give Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph, while Luke gives it through Mary. Then there’s the fact that Matthew divides up Jesus’ ancestors into three groups of 14 names. I could speak about why genealogies were important to the Jews and how important it is
But I want to focus instead on 4 simple names: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife. There’s something unusual about these 4 people in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. In the first place, in case you hadn’t noticed, they’re all women. Women! Look up any of the Old Testament genealogies, and what do you see? The names of a bunch of men. Since men are biblically the head of the family covenant and household, it makes sense for the genealogies to be traced through the father. When Paul traces our genealogy in Romans and Corinthians, he traces our sin back not to Eve but to Adam.
This in itself tells us something significant. It shouldn’t surprise us, however. If you remember Jesus as we see Him in the Gospels, you’ll remember that He went to the outcasts and those of low degree: tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and women. You’ll remember the sudden prominence that women have in the Gospel story, after the Crucifixion, when all the men have left, from fatigue or fear or confusion. Isn’t it just like God to color outside the lines and reach down and put women into the genealogy of the Son as a permanent part of His inspired Word?
But there’s more. These aren’t just any women that God has chosen to record as part of the genealogy of Christ. It’s important that Matthew chose to include these particular women, while he has clearly left out other names.
First, we find Tamar. Who’s she? It’s a sordid, sensational tale that I don’t have time to tell. Moses tells it better in Genesis 38 anyway. Suffice it say that Judah, the patriarch from whom the Christ would come, was a fool. He was a man who didn’t keep his vow to his daughter in law Tamar and slept with Tamar. It’s O.K., though. He didn’t know that she was his daughter in law: he thought she was a prostitute! Tamar took such desperate measures (go read Genesis 38) because Judah had treated her evilly, and even he acknowledged she was more righteous than he was. Still, she’s not exactly the kind of person you would put into the genealogy of Christ, unless you had a very important point to make.Second, there’s Rahab. You know Rahab: Rahab, the prostitute. What is it with Jesus and prostitutes? He not only talked to them, in violation of the social customs of his day: He also dares to have 2 as his ancestresses. There’s no getting around the fact that Rahab was a prostitute, and not just a woman driven to pretend to be one once. Worse yet, she was a Canaanite, that accursed race that God was determined to destroy and drive out of the Promised Land. But you’ll remember that she acted favorably toward the people of God and hid the spies. Further, she is put into the famous Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith because of her faithful actions. Still, she’s a pretty shady character to put into the genealogy of the Son of God.
Third, we have Ruth. Another non-Israelite. Ruth was a Moabitess, but one who left her home and her people to follow the true God. She sounds a lot like the first disciples Jesus called, who left family and jobs to follow Him. For her faithfulness, she was not only rewarded by getting to marry Mr. Right, Boaz, but was also privileged to become David’s great-grandmother, and therefore an ancestor of Jesus.
And then there is the wife of Uriah. Who was this mysterious wife of Uriah? Matthew’s modesty conceals the fact that she was none other than Bathsheba. Yes, Bathsheba, another woman in another sex scandal, this time adultery and not prostitution. We know the consequences for her and David because of their sin: Uriah was murdered and their firstborn son together died. But out of that union came Solomon, the wisest of men.
Why are these women in the genealogy of Jesus Christ? If the Bible were heavily edited by those who wanted to tidy things up and make the story look better, dontcha think they’d have thought to get rid of these scandalous women? Just what did Matthew think he was gaining for his Master’s cause by including them?
In these women, I see the good news of Jesus Christ. I see a God who reaches down to the poor, the humble, the fallen, and the sinful, and out of love chooses them to be a part of His people. I see a holy God who, out of love, dares to associate with those who would defile Him and who have blatantly chosen to disobey Him.
In the blood of Jesus Christ was the blood of these sinful, scandalous women, taken from among the people who were not God’s people. In Jesus’ DNA were remnants of the DNA of Tamar and Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.
How scandalous! How shocking!
Most shocking of all: I see myself in these women. For I am the outcast, the poor, the humble, the fallen, the sinful one. I am the one who rightfully stands outside of God and His people. But I am also the one who God adopted and made a part of His family.
You and I have also now been grafted into the genealogy of Jesus Christ, not as ancestors and not as descendants, but as His brothers and sisters. Like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, we have found favor with God.
In the story of these 4 women, incarnated in the “boring” genealogy of Matthew 1, the very first thing we read in the New Testament, I find the gospel of Jesus Christ. In their stories, I find His story, which is now also my story.
Prayer: Abba, Father! Thank You for adopting me as Your child and making me Your heir. Thank You for accepting me, in spite of my sinfulness, because of the perfect righteousness of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help me to walk today as a child of light that I may give You all glory and honor and praise. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- How does it make you feel to know that, though sinful, you have been made a child of God?
- How does it illuminate your life to remember that you are a brother or sister of Jesus Christ?
Resolution: I resolve to meditate on the mystery of being reclaimed as a child of God and to offer God appropriate thanks, praise, and obedience.
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson