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Matthew 1:1-17

 

Have you seen those adverts on television that purport to tell you all about your genealogy? The way it works is that you send a swab of some cheek cells to the company and for about a hundred bucks they will tell you where your ancestors were from. You might think that you’re 70% English, 20% Native American, and 10% Viking. But, in fact, the test may reveal that you’re about 1% English, and the other 99% scattered across the globe.

 

It’s not much of an issue, really. People are from all kinds of places. In the ancient world, though, one’s genealogy mattered a lot. All kinds of things were passed down by families: military duty, offices such as priesthood and kingship, land ownership, even titles. Here’s’ what Merrill C. Tenney says,

Finally, in a tribal or semi-tribal community, a man’s genealogy was his identification and means of location. It is roughly equal to the addresses of modern houses. People are located by country, state, city, and street. In a similar way, Achan, for example, was identified as of the tribe of Judah, the family of Zerah, the household of Zabdi, the son of Carmi (Josh 7:17, 18).

 

It is no accident, then that both the gospels of Matthew and Luke begin with the genealogy of Jesus. We have to know who he is, after all. This infant who is to be born tomorrow in a manger, and each day in our hearts… where did he come from? We know who he will become, but this baby remains a mystery. So, let’s look at Jesus’ genealogy. That will tell us something about him.

 

Most ancient genealogies are lists of men: This one was the father of that one, that one was the father of another one. It is a simple list of fathers and their sons. It’s not very interesting. What is interesting, though, is when a woman appears on the list. So, while there are a lot of interesting men in Jesus’ genealogy, some more interesting than others, let’s take a quick look at the five women who appear there because that’s the part that is different and interesting. All of them are interesting, not just because they are women, but because they are women with a story. And most of their stories are not suitable for work.

 

The first woman in Jesus’ past was a Canaanite named Tamar. This is not an auspicious beginning. Tamar’s husband, Er, was so wicked that God killed him, but that was just the start of her troubles. She had the right to marry Er’s brother, Onan. That right was guaranteed to widows as a way to ensure their survival. But, Onan refused to consummate the act that would have granted Tamar a son to care for her, so God killed him too. Tamar had a claim on Shelah, the third, and last, of Judah’s sons. Judah promised Tamar that when Shelah came of age he would let him marry Tamar. You know how things are, though. Judah did not keep his word. He was afraid that Tamar was plagued with bad spirits that would lead to the death of Shelah too, so he did not let his last son marry Tamar. Tamar got the last word, though, and she didn’t do it in a traditionally very spiritual way. What she did was, she became a hooker and lured Judah into her bedroom for… Well, you know what they did. Tamar became pregnant with twins. Maybe the twins were Judah’s, maybe they were not. The point is that Tamar was clever enough to pin it on Judah. One of the twins was Perez, thus ensuring Tamar’s survival and a place in Jesus’ genealogy.

 

The Bible doesn’t say anything about love or tenderness between Tamar and any of the men she slept with. In fact, when Judah tells Onan to “marry” Tamar, the Bible romantically says, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty.” It’s not anybody’s idea of wedded bliss. Tamar was a trickster, a Gentile, a woman abused and abandoned. God saw beyond those things and made her part of his big plan to save the world. God needs women who will fight against huge odds to get a little bit of justice. It’s a great story, but it’s not suitable for work.

 

The next woman in Jesus’ genealogy is Rahab, another Canaanite! Rahab was a businesswoman, and also a hooker. She was not a low-level hooker, though, she actually owned the brothel. But she was smart and she was a survivor. When the winds of change blew across Jericho, Rahab became a traitor to her city and joined forces with the Israelites in exchange for her life. Obviously, Rahab’s story is not suitable for work… hookers, and all. But, after the fighting had died down, Rahab married Salmon, and Salmon was the father of Boaz, who married the next woman in Jesus’ genealogy, Ruth. Thus, Rahab, the hooker, traitor, and Canaanite is part of the history of Jesus. God certainly could have given Jesus a more pristine genealogy, but he doesn’t seem to mind that there are hookers, traitors, too.

 

Like Tamar, Ruth took a huge risk in order to obtain a little justice. After her Israelite husband died she could have returned to the house of her father, and that is what her sister in law chose to do. But according to the same leverite law that granted offspring to Tamar, Ruth had a claim to a husband and she demanded it. Her words of devotion to Naomi are also words that demand justice. So, she stuck by Naomi, following her all the way to Boaz who was legally bound to give her offspring for her dead husband. The Bible is very coy about it all, saying that Ruth “uncovered Boaz’s feet,” but that just means that she made sexual overtures to him. She got her offspring too. In addition to surviving, she got a book of the Bible named after herself, and she got included in Jesus’ genealogy. God likes women who demand justice for themselves, he doesn’t seem to mind that Ruth was a gentile. In fact, it is starting to seem like God could use almost anybody to achieve his plan.

 

The fourth woman in Jesus’ genealogy is Bathsheba. Unlike the others, she is not even named in the genealogy. The Bible calls her “the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Like Rahab, Bathsheba sometimes gets a bad rap because people like to say that she seduced King David. That seems unlikely. Jewish women have a ritual bath every month. Some people have private baths, some go to a bath that all the women can use. It’s called a mikvah. Anyway, Bathsheba was doing what she always did, and may very well have been doing it where all the other women did it too. David probably enjoyed the view on more than one occasion. When he saw Bathsheba he sent for her and he had sex with her. Bathsheba may have surrendered willingly or she might have fought him. The text doesn’t say. What we do know is that David was the power holder. Bathsheba didn’t have a choice and that makes what happened to her rape. She did, however, have some smarts and she convinced David to make their son, Solomon, king. This made her the queen of Israel and ensured her place in Jesus’ genealogy. This story is definitely not suitable for work, but it was suitable enough for Jesus. Kings can’t get in the way of God’s plan.

 

The last woman in Jesus’ genealogy, of course, is his mother, Mary. If you Google “Virgin Mary,” you will get nearly 4 million results in under one second. No kidding. The woman is a saint. Literally. But, if Mary were alive today we would have placed her “in care” for her own protection. She heard voices, had hallucinations, and claimed that she was pregnant by an alien being, and then actually gave birth even though nobody had had sex with her! It the kind of stuff Rod Sterling could use in an episode of The Twilight Zone. But nothing, not even our own delusions, can stop God’s plan.

 

On this last day of Advent 2017, one day before the story of Jesus begins, let’s consider all that has brought us to this moment. There are lots of interesting people in Jesus’ genealogy: 42 men and four women in this account. It includes Bible heroes like David and Abraham. And also Manasseh and Abijah who were both very bad guys. Nahshon was fairly ordinary, like most of us. Most genealogies are like that. There are lots of different kinds of people in them.

 

Then there is Jesus whose genealogy includes five women. There are a couple of hookers, tricksters, traitors, women raped, abused, and abandoned. Their stories are not suitable for work. They are not traditionally powerful women, but they fought for their justice until they had it. And something about them was so unique that two gospel writers included them in their writings.

 

So, from the beginning of our story, and from the beginning of time really, God has used the unlikely, the shamed, abused, and raped. God is not afraid to break his own rules about who is in and who is out. As the very last woman in Jesus’ genealogy said:

“he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate”.

 

It’s as if God has absolutely no discrimination at all about who carries the good news into the world. Mary, of course, was the first to carry the good news. But, before her, there was a host of others and they were more like us than we may realize.

 

On this long, dark, winter night as we wait for the light of the world to be born consider that the light might be in you and that you might be what the world most needs. I know that things are dark economically and politically, and I know that many of you are experiencing more darkness than light this holiday season. I am not Little Orphan Annie. I will not tell you that the sun will come out tomorrow. But, I will tell you that God has a history of turning very bad situations around. He turns foreigners into beloved children. Enemies are reconciled. God really does make all things work together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

 

If you are still waiting to see God’s grand plan for your life, be patient. You are in good company. Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, Rahab, and Mary wait with you.

 And Christmas is coming.

 


 

Linda McMillan is vacationing in Texas for the holidays.

 

Image: WikiArt Marc Chagall

 

 

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Rachel Petty

Excellent. And reading this was a great start to my Christmas Eve.

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