When Matthew records Jesus’ family tree in the opening words of his gospel, he is writing to his Jewish neighbors who were asking, “What qualifies Jesus to be this Messiah we have been awaiting so long?” Qualifications are everything. Does Jesus have the right pedigree?
When you write a resume you don’t want any smudges in your personal or employment history. But who does Matthew include in Jesus’ resume? The inclusions are stunning.
Included are 5 women. Shocking. Women had no status back then. They were excluded from any genealogy. But here, in the genealogy of Jesus, there are five women – not all of them “respectable”. I can imagine Matthew’s editor leaning over his shoulder saying, “Matthew you’re crazy! If you’re going to include women, why not the respectable ones – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel”. I hear Matthew replying, “I have something else up my sleeve”.
Three of these women are Gentiles – racial outsiders. Tamar, a Canaanite; Rahab, a Jericho prostitute; Ruth a Moabitess. Deuteronomy 23:3: No Moabite or any descendant may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.Moabites are clearly not welcome. But Matthew includes Ruth in the story. Rahab is the Canaanite prostitute from Jericho. Matthew includes a prostitute in Messiah’s family tree.
Tamar tricked her father-in-law, Judah into having sex with her because Judah did not fulfil his family obligations. The whole crazy story is in Genesis 38. Tamar became pregnant with Judah’s twin boys. Matthew mentions Perez, Jesus’ ancestor and his twin brother Zerah and Tamar and Judah. Matthew deliberately showcases the whole incestuous story.
Matthew 1:6 mentions Jesse the father of king David. Great! Now we’re getting to the respectable bloodlines. But Matthew didn’t write: "David, the hero – the king – the psalmist – the man after God’s own heart.” Instead he writes “”uc">David, father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife. Matthew profiles David’s lust and betrayal, covetousness and murder. Other historians might bury these details. Matthew highlights them.
So what do you have in this genealogy? Prostitution – adultery – betrayal – incest – murder – the scandalous and dysfunctional family history Matthew wanted his readers to see. How does this qualify Jesus to be Messiah? The only reason I can think of is that Matthew wanted us to know that no one is excluded from grace.
The Law of Moses excludes every one of these people. But Jesus owns them. The excluded are included – grafted right into Messiah’s family.
When I am tempted to say, “I am far too broken”, Jesus would say, “Look at my family tree – adulterers, prostitutes, Moabites, Canaanites, bastard children, the incestuous. You have no idea how ready I am to welcome you.”
When I am tempted to say, “That one over there is far too broken”, I am drawn back to this opening chapter of God’s new way.
If God is not excluding, how can I be?
How have I excluded myself from grace? How have I excluded others?
How about you?
What are your thoughts about Jesus’ scandalous and dysfunctional family tree?
May God help us this Advent season to surrender more deeply to inclusive grace.