What do the following women have in common?
- A woman who prostituted herself to be faithful to her family.
- A prostitute.
- A foreign migrant.
- A woman taken for the sexual pleasure of a man.
- A single mother fleeing as a refugee.
Each of these women is found in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew! The women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The TV show “Finding Your Roots” shows how the fascinating stories of people’s ancestors influence identity. Courage, hardship, wickedness, and artistry are uncovered in the treasure of the past, and people’s view of themselves is expanded, challenged, and enriched. In Jesus’ genealogy, our view of God is also expanded, challenged, and deepened with our focus on Jesus’ grandmothers and mother. Our author, Merryl Blair, takes us on a journey to discover the significance of these five vulnerable, ordinary, and resourceful women. All would have been judged or harshly used, but they assure that God’s plan will be accomplished.
The study begins with little-known Tamar (see Genesis 38). It’s a strange story – and for our sensibilities, a revolting story. Tamar is married to one of Judah’s sons, who dies. As was the custom, in order to ensure the family line, Tamar is given to the next brother as a wife. Any child born would be considered the offspring of the first husband. But the second brother also dies. There is a third brother, but Judah will not marry Tamar to him. Stuck in limbo, Tamar cannot remarry outside the house of Judah. Audaciously, she veils herself and poses as a prostitute so that her stepfather impregnates her so that her first husband’s family continues. Surprisingly, she is considered fair.
If we want to be bowled over by our preconceived beliefs about whom God can use, we need only consider the story of Rahab (in Joshua chapters 2 and 6). Rahab is a prostitute, living within the walls of Jericho, vulnerable to invading armies or abusive clients. She works to support her parents, sisters and brothers. She told two spies from Israel that “the Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below” (Joshua 2:11). She provides an escape for spies and the knowledge that Jericho lives in fear of Israel. By recognizing the power of God, she is able to save her family from the invading army of Israel.
The story of Ruth is one of the most beautiful in scripture, characterized by unwavering love and faithfulness. Ruth is a despised foreign immigrant who comes to Bethlehem with her Jewish stepmother, Naomi. Ruth and Naomi endured a period of starvation and grief. Both are widowed, poor and unprotected in a time of political instability and chaos, when everyone was doing “what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
Unwavering love is a commitment that endures in adversity and sings in times of joy. He rises high, above what is required, to the heights of mercy. Love in biblical understanding is not a feeling; it is how we choose to live, doing what is right or just for others. The Hebrew word is hesed. It is God’s love for us. Two characters from the story of Ruth live boldly in hesedmoving beyond the status quo of recognized obligation into actions that bring new life.
Named only as the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba also figures in Jesus’ genealogy. She was betrayed as a seductress, but the text tells us that King David “takes her”, which is a way of describing rape elsewhere in the Bible. When Bathsheba lets it be known that she is pregnant, David manipulates events so that her husband is killed in battle. Bathsheba becomes one of David’s wives and reveals her strength by becoming an agent in carrying out God’s plan for the next king of Israel.
Surprisingly, Jesus’ mother, Mary, says nothing in the Gospel of Matthew. She is the single mother with whom Joseph deals kindly. She is a refugee, like so many others, fleeing a murderous army. Our author expands our view of Mary using the Gospels of Luke and John and the story of the veneration of Mary in the church. As a model of discipleship, Mary challenges our notions of faithfulness.
The five women foreshadow Jesus’ own ministry to those deemed unacceptable. In them, we glimpse “the astonishing newness of the kingdom of God…a kingdom that constantly challenges us to question our zones of exclusion and our prejudices” (page 80). Rather interesting, don’t you think?
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