Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
North Americans love a good scandal. Scandals involve disgraceful or offensive activities. We’re captivated by the salacious details of celebrities’ lives, by politicians trapped in webs of corruption, greed, and infidelity and by clergy gone astray. Maybe we’re drawn to the lapses and misdeeds of the powerful because we delight in seeing the mighty fall or the hypocrisies of the arrogant exposed. Or maybe we enjoy the self-righteous comfort that comes from comparing our own messed-up lives to theirs: at least we’re not that bad! But tonight’s reading draws our attention to some striking scandals in Jesus own genealogy. Let’s spend a few minutes reviewing the family scandals.
Now, you might think that the genealogies are the most boring parts of the Bible. I confess that I usually skip them in Bible reading. But, I want to highlight the significance of the women in this genealogy. There are actually five women listed. One scholar notes, “Most Jewish genealogies did not include women. More important, the choice of these particular women, instead of such great matriarchs as Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah, proves Matthew was giving us something more than merely biological information” (Carson 2009, 12). The four women in Matthew’s genealogy show us what kind of Saviour we have. This genealogy is in the Bible, and so it actually tells us something about God, his Son, and the plan of salvation.
We have four women then, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. These women have all gone down in history as women of ill repute or questionable behaviour. Odd people to want to highlight in the Messiah’s family tree. Tamar was a woman who was wrongfully denied motherhood by her husband and after he died, then her brother-in-law Judah. They both refused to sleep with her, and according to their customs, that was immoral and illegal. So, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and ends up sleeping with Judah, the son of Jacob. She tricked Judah into giving her children because he refused to do his duty. Rahab was a professional prostitute in the city of Jericho. She hid the two Israelite spies, and helped them escape the city. In return, she was promised safety when the city was destroyed.
Bathsheba, according to the traditional reading, was complicit in one of the most notorious adulteries of all time, not resisting the advances of King David while her husband risked his very life on their behalf. David’s act is usually described as adultery, but in our day we classify it as rape. The prophet’s parable paints the picture of an innocent young wife cherished by her husband, powerfully taken away and consumed. Bathsheba might actually have been the victim. David was also guilty of a conspiracy to murder Bathsheba’s husband when he found out she was pregnant. While their first child dies, Queen Bathsheba assists in securing the throne for her son, Solomon, and ultimately is listed in the lineage of Jesus. Ruth was a godly woman, but, she was not an Israelite, but a Moabite, and so, wasn’t very well liked.
These women come from different time-periods in Jewish history. They show us something interesting. They show us a time when Gentiles and sinners displayed great faith while God’s people didn’t. Tamar demonstrated her faith in God’s promises to Abraham’s seed through desperately clinging to her position as matriarch of Judah’s heir, and she sees God’s blessing through the unusual birth of her twin sons. Rahab believes the reports she has heard about Israel’s God, and trusts him. When Jericho fell, God spared Ruth, even though she was was a prostitute, because she was a woman of faith. Ruth shows us that a Moabite, a non-Israelite, had faith during the period when the Israelites did what was right in their own eyes. Uriah was a Gentile Hittite, how showed his loyalty and faithfulness to his duty even while David was being nothing but a predator.
Why does Matthew highlight the skeletons in the messianic closet? Because you might be tempted to say, “If God knows the skeletons in my closet, he won’t want anything to do with me.” “God can’t forgive what I’ve done.” “I don’t deserve God’s love because I’m just too sinful.” “God hates me!” This genealogy is deliberately making the point that that is not true! Jesus is the kind of person who is not ashamed of sinners—in fact, he even puts them in his family tree! It shocks many people to see Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba in Jesus’ family tree because we think position should be earned. Deserved. That good conduct, not bad, is rewarded. God’s grace is shocking. It’s offensive. It’s completely unmerited and undeserved. It’s outrageous, preposterous, excessive, and completely unlimited. Grace covers my scandalous sin and yours. God saves people with scandalous pasts, with regrets, and with skeletons in the closet.
Maybe we’ve forgotten how scandalous our sin really is? Or maybe we think our scandalous sin keeps us from God? We shouldn’t gasp in shock that sinners would be included in Jesus’ genealogy, we should breathe a sigh of relief that Jesus came to be friends with sinners like us. Jesus is not an enemy of sinners, he is the friend of sinners. He came to befriend sinners and offer them a place in the family of God. Jesus has a friendship with sinners that the religious leaders will find scandalous.
What the world looks on and sees as scandal was actually God at work in bringing about his perfect plan of salvation. Do not think that your past is too scandalous for God. We’re invited to take a place at the table in God’s family and this family takes all kinds. This family tree is filled with violence, false worship, rape, incest, murder, prostitution and adultery. Jesus is a friend to all kinds of people, with all their warts and bruises and scandals and skeletons and other things from their pasts. We need only look so far as Jesus’ family tree to see the hope of Christmas – that the baby born in Bethlehem came to cover our shame with his unmerited grace. God’s grace means there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less. It means that I, even I who deserve the exact opposite, get to be a friend of Jesus. With Jesus as the friend of sinners, “all manner of things shall be well.” God’s revelation here is that no one is beyond God’s grace.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.