Third Week in Advent: 14 Dec.—20 Dec.
There are numerous genealogies in the Old Testament, but there are only two such lists in the New Testament: the genealogies of Jesus found in Luke and Matthew, which we hear this week. Sister Marianne Race points out that the list of ancestors has a specific purpose different from genealogies in the Old Testament. They place Jesus, the Son of God, within the human family.
Matthew’s genealogy connects Jesus to the Old Testament promises of a Messiah. In a patriarchal society, ancestry was traced through the male, yet Matthew includes five women in the family tree of Jesus. What does their story contribute to the coming of the messiah?
Rahab, a Canaanite innkeeper in the town of Jericho, was instrumental in the Hebrews’ entrance into the Promised Land. Tamar tricked her father-in-law, Judah, into impregnating her. This bold move, though outrageous by our standards, meant that there would be an heir. Thus the tribe of Judah would not die out or be absorbed into another tribe. Through Tamar, God’s promise that “the scepter shall never depart from Judah” (Gen.49:10) was fulfilled.
Ruth, a Moabite, came to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi, after both were widowed. “Wherever you go, I will go…your people will be my people, and your God will be my God too” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth married an Israelite openly confirming her faith in the God of Israel. Moabites were among Israel’s worst enemies, yet Ruth transcended the obstacles of nationalism, historical enmity, and ritual observance.
The wife of Uriah, Bathsheba, came to the royal palace through lust, murder and abuse of power. She is a reminder that humanity, even the great King David, is weak and flawed. God’s promises will be fulfilled, not through the efforts of humankind, but through God’s grace, unconditional love, and forgiveness.
Mary’s place in the genealogy is obvious and uncontested. As a descendant of David she knew, as did every young Jewish woman with this lineage, that she could be the mother of the Messiah. Did Mary know that her acceptance of the angel’s message was the final step in the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah?
Ask yourself that question in the company of the other women in this genealogy. One would imagine the women in the genealogy of Jesus would be the finest Jewish women, but no, some weren’t Jewish at all, however, they created the path of Israel’s history by pure grit and their faith in Israel’s God. Each one is an example of trust in God in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Our biblical ancestors, male and female, are ordinary people whose lives, like ours, are sometimes messy. For such as these the kingdom of God has come.*