In the Jesus’ Granddads series last week, I pointed out the startling reality that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke each include a genealogical record for Jesus Christ, and that they don’t agree. But I neglected to tell you which one is my favorite.
Are you ready?
Well, they’re both beautiful in their own way, but my hands-down favorite is Matthew.
Not just because it’s a fair bit shorter – even though I am a fan of brevity (in other people’s work, at least). And also not only thanks to the 14-14-14 parallel that the former tax collector points out in Verse 17, although I do think that’s quite awesome.
No, what sets Matthew’s genealogy apart for me is the fact that it includes some women. That’s pretty noteworthy in the male-dominated society of First-Century Palestine.
Matthew, you might remember, is the only Gospel writer who specifically acknowledged the presence of women and children at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, as we discussed in the October 2011 post Estrogenesis.
And in Chapter 1 of his Gospel, he also makes a point of augmenting the genealogically compulsory chain of granddads by mentioning some grannies as well. And not the squeaky-clean, righteous and pure grannies (although Jesus must have had some of those as well), but some ancestors that your average upstanding Jew would rather omit.
But Jesus wasn’t your average upstanding Jew, was he? And Matthew, as one of his 12 closest friends, knew Him better than most, so I bet Jesus is quite comfortable with the women included in this family tree:
Tamar – In the scandalous soap opera that is Genesis 38, Tamar was the wife of Judah‘s son Er. Er was apparently pretty wicked, so God put him to death. Judah then instructed Er’s little brother, Onan to marry her and raise their children as Er’s (one of those Levirate marriages I mentioned in Jesus’ Granddads, Part 1), but Onan was not a fan of the arrangement so he declined to (ahem) complete the transaction. In response, God killed Onan, too – leaving Tamar twice widowed. Judah decided not to give her to his third son, and instead made her live in his household as a widow. In response, Tamar decided to get pregnant by hoodwinking her father-in-law into having sex with her. (In his defence, he thought she was a prostitute, which is so much better.) The plan succeeded and she bore twin boys: Zerah and Perez, who is one of Jesus’ granddads.
Rahab – Speaking of prostitutes, Rahab was a lady of the evening in the city of Jericho who betrayed her own people when she gave shelter to Israelite spies in Joshua 2. In response, the Israelite soldiers spared her and her family in Joshua 6, before going back and burning the entire city. She was not only allowed to live, she was apparently accepted into Israelite society despite her sordid former profession and status as a foreigner – so I think there’s room to view this as a real redemption story. As it says in the Wikipedia article about her, ‘biblical interpreters have viewed Rahab as a model of hospitality, mercy, faith, patience, and repentance in her interaction with Joshua’s spies. Thus the harlot of Jericho became a paragon of virtue.’
Ruth, who was King David‘s great-grandmother, is also looked upon as a heroine of the Bible, and rightly so. Her loyalty to mother-in-law Naomi, and her perseverance in the face of overwhelming adversity, set an inspiring and compelling example for us to try to emulate. But her presence in David’s family tree – and by extension that of Jesus – had to be a bit controversial. She was a Moabite, after all, and Deuteronomy 23:3 declares, ‘An Ammonite or Moabite may not enter the assembly of the Lord; to the tenth generation none of their descendants shall ever do so…’. This decree came in response, partially, to a shameful incident in Numbers 25, when Moabite women seduced Israelite men in droves (at the suggestion of rival prophet Balaam). I’ve read that fraternizing with Moabite women, in light of this incident, was strictly taboo (and maybe a little tantalizing) in Israel in biblical times. (And depending on how you choose to read Ruth 3, the title character of this book might not be as far removed from this stereotype as the rest of the story suggests.) So if revisionist historians had chosen not to point out Ruth’s contribution to the line of David and Jesus, it would have been understandable. And yet, there she is.
Uriah’s Wife – Interestingly, Matthew acknowledged Solomon’s mother, but didn’t use her name, which is Bathsheba, of course. Did he refer to her as ‘Uriah’s wife’ to underscore the sinful origins of David and Bathsheba’s marriage and to paint Solomon as the bastard son of the king? To maybe point out that Bathsheba’s efforts to play kingmaker for her son, after his father seduced(?) her and murdered her husband, smack a little of opportunism? Maybe … but Solomon’s own arrogance, philandering, excess and idolatry as king provide more than enough fodder for anyone wanting to look down their nose at this section of Jesus’ ancestry.
There you have it. Jesus’ Grannies: four famous women who did the best they could to live the best life possible for themselves and their children, in a violent, turbulent, male-dominated world…
… Or …
Four infamous women who schemed, seduced, betrayed and manipulated their way to better social position for themselves and/or their children?
Now I used the word ‘or’ to separate those two possible interpretations, but I think this is probably another one of those ‘both and’ realities that pop up so frequently in the Bible.
And that’s pretty encouraging.
I think Matthew included these four names because their stories are sad and tragic, and messy and sordid. That their lives were difficult, their men were selfish and flawed, and – to varying degrees – so were they. I see four women whose stories are desperately in need of redemption.
And through their bloodlines, through their actions and through these very stories, we are provided The Redeemer. Of all.
‘Praise the Lord! He is good. God’s love never fails.’ – Psalm 136 (CEV)
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Now, no discussion of Jesus’ female ancestors would be complete without at least a passing look at the last woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus: Mary.
So let’s pick that up tomorrow. For now …
Peace be with you.