So Matthew starts with a long genealogy!!! Most Biblical readers do not really enjoy reading them. But my hope is that at least some of these names are now familiar – more than just Abraham and David even. After reading through the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the Torah and historical books, these names are not new to you. We are always more interested in people we know than in strangers, so I invite you to take a closer look at this genealogy.
One thing that you cannot avoid missing is the fact that five women get named in Jesus’ genealogy. I would think that if there were women named at all, they would at least be prominent women of society. Women who were royalty maybe would be mentioned or women who were leaders themselves – someone like Deborah from Judges. But these are not the women mentioned. All of the women who are named in Matthew 1 are women with some questionable background. They are more like the relatives that you might want to hide in your own family tree, not the ones you hang portraits of in your home.
So who are these women? Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “the wife of Uriah,” and Mary. I know you are thinking that many of these women were really good and righteous, models of faith – no one you would want to hide. You are right – in fact, they all are, but in their own time with its societal norms, they were all questionable characters.
Tamar is the victim of injustice. She marries a man who dies without giving her children. The brother who is obligated to marry her does everything he can to avoid giving her children and is struck down by God and also dies. Then the parents decide not to even offer the third son. But Tamar has a plan to redeem herself with a child, she pretends to be a prostitute and has not one but two twin sons to her father-in-law! Maybe not a story you would proudly tell your children.
Rahab has two strikes against her. She is a foreigner and she is a prostitute. She is the one who hides the Hebrew spies in Jericho. Her faith in God saves her and makes her part of the Israelite community. Ruth is also a foreigner. Yes, she may be devoted to Naomi and is faithful to Boaz, but she is still a Moabite. Hebrews were taught not to marry outsiders. It would be shocking to many that Jesus, the Messiah, was not a pure Jew but had foreign ancestors.
Bathsheba does not even get named in the genealogy, instead Matthew focuses the reader’s attention on the fact that she was an adulterer. This a sin punishable by stoning! Again, not a family story you share vocally at family reunions.
I know that even Lutherans revere Mary. Roman Catholics honor her and point to her as the model of faith. But let’s be honest, when Matthew is first written, she was probably just a Jewish girl who had a baby before she was married. This may sound harsh to us but before Matthew and Luke were written down, there were probably just questions about her relationship with Joseph.
Yet when we look at all of these women and many of the men in Jesus’ genealogy, we interpret it with eyes of faith. In fact, all five women, despite their backgrounds, actions by societal norms, or circumstances, were faithful to following God. Keep this in mind as you look to faith leaders today. Some, including yourselves, may not be the “perfect” people but it does not mean that God is unable to use you and other questionable people for great acts of faith!