The significance of the genealogical lists in the scripture is often lost on modern readers. No more so than in the story of Christ’s birth. The inclusion of women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus would have been a shocking attention grabber to contemporary audiences. It would have riveted his hearers, and have had them hanging in suspense, wondering what could the story possibly be talking about? Matthew knew what he was doing with an opener like this genealogy!
In the time of Christ (and in the Mideast to this day) genealogies would normally consist of only males, and then, only prominent males: those of stature and honor, whose great feats or character would have brought honor to the community by association. In addition to Miriam (Mary), Matthew includes four women, and not even “great ones!”
- Tamar – a liar who commits incest with her father-in-law through deceit, who, according to Leviticus 20:12, should have been stoned. (Literalists, fundamentalists, and “Torah-observers” please take note!)
- Rahab – a Gentile and a prostitute. (The Jewish animus toward Gentiles is well documented and hard for us to grasp the visceral disdain.)
- Ruth – a Gentile Moabitess (Same as above.)
- Bathsheba – an unfaithful wife and adulteress.
This is not an approved Jewish hall of fame! The gender inclusion would have blown the top of their heads off. Their “lack of character” would have exploded their brains out of their skulls!
This opener, alone, would have signaled, in the strongest way they could have understood, that what was going to follow would be different than anything they had known. From the very first words of the gospel, their deeply held religious beliefs and cultural values and ethics were being challenged. Jesus kept up the challenge all through His ministry, and Paul carried it to the world in his.
The challenge remains to us today.
Jesus has not come to sanctify our prejudices, non-kingdom beliefs and cultural values. He has not come to validate dualistic, us-versus-them thinking of either the religious or political right or left. He has come to announce His kingdom, whose values are an inversion to many of the things that American/western cultural Christians hold dear. Jesus’ kingdom is “other.” His kingdom is “none of the above.” Jesus said neither He, nor His kingdom, are of this world’s order of things (Gr. – kosmos – John 8:23, John 18:36).
At this time of year, let’s remember to whom we belong, of whom we represent as ambassadors, and that Jesus deems to associate with the likes of us. Let’s pay it forward.
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