Sunday, May 8, 2011

Redeeming a Few Bad Apples in the Family Tree, Part 1 (A little Mother's Day Inspiration)

This post goes out to all the great mothers and excellent women in my life.

The Royal Wedding 2011
 The end of April was exciting for wedding planners ... On April 29 Kate Middleton became the Duchess of Cambridge in one of the most publicized weddings in a long time.  No, I didn't get up in the middle of the night to watch Kate and William tie the knot, nor did I care how many times the couple kissed at their wedding. (C'mon people!) But I do have two females living in my house, and we have one TV, so I was forced to watch some of the coverage. Something I found interesting is that Kate comes from a "common family," coal miners in fact.  This of course makes for the perfect Disney plot - a common girl marries the prince.  And heck, if she could do it, then anyone could do it, right ladies? Well, not quite...the Middleton's have some dough and seem to be well-connected, and the media coverage about Kate did reveal that deeper in her lineage lies more dignified ties to the royal family. But you get the point...according to royal lineage standards, she was just the girl next door.  Yet, I can't help but wonder: what will future British generations think about a coal mining family infiltrating the royal pedigree?

Something similar seems to have happened in a royal lineage that we find in the Bible. In chapter 1 of Matthew's Gospel, Matthew starts right away with a family tree tracing Jesus' royal and divine pedigree back to King David and ultimately to the patriarch Abraham.  A quick word on Biblical geneaologies, compiling a list of descendants was very important in ancient times. As a primarily oral culture, geneaologies served as the only source of history that many people would ever know.  Furthermore, geneaologies arbitrated things like inheritances and property allotments, and validated offices for priests and kings. And much like modern family trees, they provided a sense of cultural identity and social status (see John 6:41-42).  So for Jesus to be touted as the King of Kings, God's highest priest, and the Messiah, it would be important to demonstrate his royal and divine bloodline.

But my good friend Arloa Sutter drew my attention to something else that I had never noticed before.  (Probably because I skip over lists in the Bible so much!) Omissions and broad generational strokes are also common in geneaologies. For instance, you find names of unimportant or embarrassing family members left out, people who might minimize or disgrace the family pedigree. (Sorry Uncle Larry.)  Also, given the patriarchal focus of that culture, women have much less emphasis in family trees, and are likewise often omitted altogether.  So geneaologies are thoughtful and selective.  Matthew details that he only lists 41 people from the time of Abraham to the time of Jesus.

Ok, so based on all of that, here's where it gets interesting.  Matthew lists five women in his geneaology.

Surely these must have been exceptionally dignified women to crack into the geneaology of the Chosen One.  I mean, this is a royal and a divine lineage now. Only the best should be in here, right? We'll, let's take a closer look at each of them:

Tamar (Gen. 38).  A widow twice over who was shamed and unjustly neglected by the men in her life and who resorts to deception and indignity in order to, essentially, do the right thing (pass on her family line). She disguises herself as a shrine prostitute and convinces Judah, her father-in-law, to sleep with her. Interestingly enough, she has twin boys. The oldest of which was Perez, who passes on the family line and also makes it into Jesus' family tree.

Rahab (Joshua 2, 6).  Rahab expresses her fear of the Lord and helps the Israelites occupy the Promised Land. But she was a foreigner, a Canaanite. And she was a prostitute. But the Israelites honor their deal with her and spare her family. She apparently marries an Israelite and gives birth to a son named Boaz. They both make it into the geneaology. And she is considered a woman of great faith in the New Testament (Hebrews 11).

Ruth (she has her own book!).  Ruth was a Moabite woman. The Moabites were not well regarded among Israelites. They had incestous family roots (Gen. 19) and they just generally did not get along with each other. Nevertheless, Ruth marries into an Israelite family. But she and her mother-in-law Naomi, and her sister-in-law Orpah, all become widows. Ouch. Instant poverty and helplessness. But because she is faithful, hard working, and humble, Boaz (Rahab's son!) marries and redeems her from obscurity. She is then blessed with a son named Obed, who would become the grandfather of King David. They all made it into the geneaology.

Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). She and King David get caught up in an adulterous affair. David tries to fix it by killing her husband, and loyal Israelite soldier, Uriah. Of course, none of those things ever work out well, but David ultimately repents of his sin, and they suffer the consequence of a stillborn child. David marries Bathsheba and she gives birth to Solomon. They all made it into the list.

Mary (Luke 1). Mary is just a teenager from a small town when she finds out that she is going to give birth to a very special child by way of the Holy Spirit.  She becomes pregnant, but she's still only engaged to Joseph. How do you explain that one and not get a stone thrown at you? 

Um, Happy Mother's Day??  Clearly these were not dignified women to be in, what one would think, the most dignified and utterly important geneaology in history. On the contrary. These were powerless, hopeless, shameful, scandalous, embattled, simple, and otherwise insignificant women.  Certainly there were better mothers that could have made the list. Moms who who made delicious apple pies, took their families to church each Sunday, and served faithfully on the PTA, no? So why these ladies? If geneaologies are so thoughtfully crafted, what was Matthew thinking? 

(To be continued...)

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