Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. [Colossians 3:10-11 (NLT)]
Most of us probably speed-read through the long genealogies found in the Old Testament. The New Testament begins with a lengthy genealogy, as well, but it’s worth more than a quick skim through a list of often unpronounceable names. Because it was prophesized that the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham and from the line of David, Matthew takes us through Jesus’s family tree to firmly establish His royal lineage. While there are three notable omissions in the line of ancestors—the vile kings Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, all of whom “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”—there are five remarkable additions. While highly unusual to mention women in a genealogy, Matthew mentions five women of rather questionable reputations.
We start with Tamar. Widow of Judah’s son Er, she was done wrong both by her brother-in-law Onan and father-in-law Judah. Taking matters into her hands and pretending to be a prostitute, she duped Judah into having sex with her and gave birth to Perez and Zerah. Her unconventional behavior is a blemish on the family tree but it’s nothing when compared to the next woman mentioned: Rahab. Although she saved Joshua’s spies in Jericho and married an Israelite, she’d been a Canaanite prostitute. making her another blot on the pedigree of the Prince of Peace. Ruth, the widow who accompanied Naomi back to Bethlehem, is the next woman mentioned. This devoted daughter-in-law and grandmother to King David was a hated Moabite. Because Moab had opposed the Israelites and tried to curse them, her people were cursed and could not enter into the assembly. A hated foreigner is hardly the ancestor you’d expect of the man who came to save the Jews. We then come to Bathsheba; whether the innocent victim of rape or a seductive adulteress, her husband was murdered by King David and her first child conceived in adultery. While we know little more of her, we’ve got the plot line of a soap opera now! The genealogy finishes with Mary, the mother of Jesus: a poor young girl from Nazareth who became pregnant before marriage!
These are hardly the kind of women about whom a good Jew would boast: a woman who used sex to trick a man, a prostitute from Canaan, a cursed Moabite, an adulteress, and an unwed mother! After neglecting to mention three kings, why did Matthew include these women? If women were to be mentioned at all, there must have been a few upstanding ones whose reputations were without blemish. Yet, in Tamar, we have a woman who sought justice on her own terms; in Rahab, a woman with enough faith in the Israelites’ God to commit treason; in Ruth, a woman who abandoned her pagan gods and became a sacrificial servant to Naomi; in Bathsheba, a woman resilient in the face of the loss of both husband and child; and in Mary, a woman who faced scorn and shame because of other peoples’ assumptions. Damaged and vulnerable, these are the kind of people to whom we all can relate.
Matthew’s list tells us that Jesus came for all people: men and women, rich and poor, native and foreigner, accepted and unwelcome, famous and infamous, strong and weak, honored and scorned, Jews and Gentiles: sinners all. He came to save each and every one of us and to make us members of the same family! Thank you, God, for the Christmas gift of salvation for all who believe.