Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Rahab and the Spies, Frederick Richard Pickersgill, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57023.
Ruth: Swanson, John August. Story of Ruth, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56561.
Mary: Wesley, Frank, 1923-2002. And the Word Became Flesh, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=59238.
Matthew 1:1-16 The Gospel According to Matthew
The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
Genesis. The title of the first book of our Bible and the second word of the book of Matthew in the original Greek. βίβλος γενέσεως ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ υἱοῦ δαυὶδ υἱοῦ ἀβραάμ. In her commentary on today’s reading, Mitzi Minor notes that a translation of this first line of Matthew could be “The book of the Genesis of Jesus the Christ.” Genesis is a Greek word that means “origin.” The book of Genesis is about origins: origins of the universe and our little corner of it, of humanity in general, and of the family of Abraham in particular. David Carr calls this the “primeval history” and the “ancestral history” in his introduction to Genesis. The author of Matthew takes great care to situate Jesus in relationship to the ancestral history in particular. In so doing, according to Minor, Jesus is also connected to the primeval history... to all of creation. Because God promised to renew all of creation. And, Jesus, who’s origin reached to David and to Abraham and through Abraham, to creation. The book of the Genesis of Jesus the Christ.
A colleague of mine, E. Carrington Heath, recently pointed something out. The Messiah is supposed to come from the line of David. If we believe what happens in the verses just after today’s reading, the ones where Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant with a child that is not his, then Jesus is not a biological descendant of David and Abraham, but adopted in through Joseph’s love and faith. Dr. Heath says, “In an age when we argue so much based on ‘biology,’ it’s amazing how God’s truth and love sometimes choose other routes.” The genesis of Jesus the Christ is a story about bringing someone into a family as much as it about tracing the origin of one specific family.
I don’t know how often you read the first 16 verses of the first chapter of Matthew. I’ve preached about this genealogy enough that I hope you have decided to read through it at least a few times. As I have said before, many folks skip over the first 16 or 17 verses to get to Joseph’s call story in verse 18. Please don’t skip these names, even if you don’t remember who everyone is. Because the names are here for a reason. Because Jesus’ story is very much about one who is brought into a family, we should likely pay attention to not just the fathers and their biological sons that make up this family tree. We should also attend to the women who are named in this list.
In a genealogy that is nearly all fathers and sons, the inclusion of four women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, stands out. Why would these women in particular be included when so many other women weren’t? Let’s turn to their stories for a moment. While there are a couple of different Tamars in the Hebrew Bible, the one who is mentioned in this genealogy is Tamar from Genesis 38. Tamar was a widow reliant on her father-in-law Judah for care. As was their custom, when her husband died, she married his brother. The first tragedy of her story is the death of her first husband. Then, she marries his brother, who dies. Then another brother who dies.
Judah, upon losing three sons, refuses to allow his fourth son to marry Tamar. This is a different kind of tragedy. In addition to the grief of losing her husbands, Tamar would have been left with no financial or emotional support because Judah refused to live up to his familial responsibilities. So, she devised a plan to save herself, a scandalous plan which implicated Judah in unrighteous behavior. The plan was risky and could have hurt her reputation, leaving her with even fewer options than before. Her plan ended up working. She survived and rebuilt her family, ending up in this list as an ancestor to David.
The second woman listed is Rahab whose story is in Joshua 2. She ran her own business, in the world’s oldest profession, out of her home that was built along the city wall of Jericho. She hid some of the Hebrew leader Joshua’s soldiers when enemy soldiers came searching for them. She even helped them escape to return to their army. Her actions helped Joshua to win the battle for the city and saved her own family from being destroyed in that same battle. She would go on to marry Joshua and convert to his faith. She is still remembered as one with a deep faith in God and as a righteous hero to the faith that she married into.
Ruth was a Moabite married to an Israelite man at a point when Israelite men weren’t supposed to be married to Moabites. Upon the deaths of her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law, rather than return to her father’s home, Ruth creates a new family with her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi and Naomi’s distant relative Boaz. Their atypical family helps the women survive in an era where widows had few social safety nets. Ruth, who once said that Naomi’s God had become her God, who risked traveling to a foreign city where the men weren’t even supposed to marry her, would eventually bear her little family a son, Obed. In this act of trust and faith, in building new relationships and bearing new life, she becomes known as a renewer of her family’s hope.
And, Bathsheba? It is not clear when we first meet her in 2nd Samuel if she hoped to become the wife of King David. Kings were pretty free to do what they wanted with women in their vicinity, so her intent may not have mattered to him at all. David sent her husband away and took Bathsheba for his own purposes. While it isn’t clear if she wanted to be in the relationship where she was, but, once she was there, she would take great care of her son, Solomon. Solomon would become king, one of the most famous and wise kings of his people, as a direct result of the intervention of his mother. Her strategic forethought, especially in the face of the nearly unchecked power of King David, would change her people’s history.
I read a quote once by the author Linda Hogan, who was talking about the spiritual practice of listening to nature while out walking. She said, “Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands." We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood. And, all we know about his mother Mary’s is that it was likely disrupted by an unexpected and likely scandalous pregnancy. When Joseph decided to make them his family, to bring them into the line of David and Abraham, did Joseph remember these four women, his forebears? Did the Holy Spirit say, “look at where you came from. This pregnancy does not have to be the end of your and Mary’s story. It can be the beginning.”
And, Mary, knowing the stories of her people, was she bolstered by the intelligence and resilience of these women? Did they help her know that she could fight for a better future? If the love of thousands wasn’t clear to her, was the love of four? Would that help to her be unafraid to become the fifth woman in this genealogy? Maybe it did. Or, maybe that one angelic voice was enough. Perhaps this is one of the lessons of this story. You never know what the origin of your bravery will be. But, renewal is at hand, and each of us has the opportunity to be brave enough to be a part of it.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Mitzi Minor: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/genealogy-of-jesus/commentary-on-matthew-11-17-2
David M. Carr, "Genesis," The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, primary ed. Paul J. Achtemeier (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
Tikva S. Frymer-Kensky, "Rahab," The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, primary ed. Paul J. Achtemeier (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
Phyllis A. Bird, "Tamar," The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, primary ed. Paul J. Achtemeier (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
Phyllis Trible, "Ruth," The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, primary ed. Paul J. Achtemeier (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
Yehoshua Gitay, "Bathsheba," The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, primary ed. Paul J. Achtemeier (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
A Greek version of Matthew: https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/matthew-1-parallel-kjv-greek/
E. Carrington Heath: https://twitter.com/echeath/status/1598365528258641920?s=20&t=aOIJdj07cPdxRn-reITu4w
Linda Hogan: https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/excerpts/view/23701
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.