Sunday, May 8, 2011

Redeeming a Few Bad Apples in the Family Tree, Part 2

In my previous post I drew attention to Matthew's inclusion of five intriguing women in his geneaology of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. One might first assume that these were women of great dignity and nobility to merit such recognition in the divine geneaology.  But a closer look shows that they seem to be more surly than sophisticated. Kind of like this sketch of Queen Elizabeth on SNL.

So what was Matthew thinking in including these embarrassing women in Jesus' family tree? Here's what I think.  Matthew is giving us a major clue about how God operates in the world. What Matthew shows us is that God is loving, forgiving, merciful, inclusive, creative, and even a little humorous. He can handle a little scandal. He doesn't condone it, but he redeems people and their sitautions, and finds a way to write them into his story to show that he (not us) is in control of history.

Why is this important to women this Mother's Day? Witnessing the stories of all the great women in my life has given me some clues about a woman's experience in the world.  I know that you have endured hardships, many of which at the hands of men. I know that you have had to work around a system that often seems set up against you, that exerts double standards, and that forces you to compromise your values. I know that you have been mistreated, deceived, taken advantage of, shamed, and dismissed. I know that you have had to bear the burdens of entire households. I know that you have anxieties and insecurities and that you have struggled to reconcile your self image in an airbrushed world. Women, I know that you know that you are imperfect.  But does your imperfect pedigree make you less valuable to God?

No. What Matthew is telling you, ladies, is this:  Despite your pedigree, God is writing you into his salvation history.

Yes, God may have some things to patch up in your life, but he's got a spot for you in the story.

But there's more to it. The second point I find about Matthew's geneaology I think is connected to a statement that the Apostle Paul makes in a letter to Timothy. Now, before I share the connection, I just need you to hear me out. I'm about to go out on a limb here, but I think it's a good limb. So don't tune out until I finish this next point.

In 1 Timothy 2:15 Paul says that women will be saved through childbearing. (Stay with me). Some manuscripts even say that "women will be saved by the birth of the Child." I'm going to stick with that nuance. Paul draws an allusion to Eve in the Garden of Eden where women's "role" was established.  I'd actually like to read women's "opportunity."  And when I say opportunity, I mean that, regardless of all the power and privilege that men have wielded throughout the ages, there is one thing men could not do that only a woman could: give birth to Jesus.

Now, I don't want to get into the theology of Paul's statement. And I want to state very clearly that I am not interested in discussing literal gender roles, or "Annie Get your Gun" stuff.  But I am interested in viewing that statement in light of Matthew's geneaology and based on John 1:10-13.  John basically says that the way Jesus' salvation enters the world has nothing to do with any human actions or value systems, nor any gender roles nor none of that. It was only something that God could do in his own God-style. And for some reason God needed to use the uniqueness of women.

That reason, I believe, is this: Women, you were uniquely designed to give birth to Jesus, to Salvation.

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary were unwitting bearers of the Savior of the world. So if there is any inspirational take-away to you ladies this Mother's Day, it is that, despite your pedigree, God is writing you into his history so that you can "give birth" to Jesus in the world around you.

Women, you have the unique ability of bearing Jesus in the world that men do not have.  God has enabled you and has called you to bring Jesus to life in the world around you through your leadership, your vision, your talents, your creativity, your relationships, your ministry, your community, and yes, your motherhood. And this is true whether or not you ever become a physical mother. And based on John 1, this is a power that no man on earth can give to you. It is God himself who put that in you. And I know that, just like these five women, you will do whatever it takes to bear Jesus in your world.

Before I head out, I have to share a quick word with the men about their takeaway from this. (It's important that we don't isolate men and women from each other when it comes to fulfilling God's will; Gender separation is exactly how the enemy got us in this predicament to begin with.).  We can take our cues from the male counterparts in Matthew's geneaology. What we see is that these guys ultimately did three things:

1) They saw God at work in the lives of these women.
2) They humbled themselves to obey God on account of that.
3) They created the opportunity for them to bear Jesus in the world.
Judah saw God at work by recognizing Tamar's righteousness, so he confessed his sin, married her and helped her bear Jesus through the family tree. Joshua saw Rahab's faith in the Lord, so he kept his word to this Canaanite prostitute and provided her with the opportunity of integrating into the Israelite community, where she married and gave birth to Jesus through the family tree. Boaz recognized Ruth's faithfulness and integrity, so he redeemed this Moabite widow and helped her to bear Jesus in the family tree.  David realized his sin and married Bathsheba into the royal family, helping her to give birth to Jesus through the family tree. Joseph believes the Angel about this divine baby and he decides to honor Mary by marrying her and legitimizing both of them into the family tree of Jesus.  If men could do those things with the women in their lives, then Jesus will come to life in amazing ways throughout the world.

In closing, women, I would like to leave you with this blessing...
...May you display the righteous determination of Tamar.
...May you receive the faithful security of Rahab.
...May you experience the redemption of Ruth.
...May you have the restored dignity of Bathsheba.
...May you find favor in the eyes of the Lord as Mary did.
...May God write you into his story despite your pedigree,
...and may you bear Jesus abundantly in the world around you!

And may you have a happy Mother's Day.


  1. maureen caballeroMay 11, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    Lovely, Tony! I too had never really noticed that there are only five women listed in Matthew's geneology until I read Ms Understood, by Jen Hatmaker. Wonderful, insightful read that explores why these particular broken women were listed (just in case anyone wants to explore further...)

  2. Thanks Maureen. I can always count on you for great follow up reads!