Jesus’ Family Tree

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. hosts a show on PBS called “Finding Your Roots”. In it, he shares the often unknown ancestry of famous people. We not only get to witness how these famous people react learning where they come from, we also learn more about what makes them who they are today.

There is a part of the Christmas story that feels very much like something you would find on “Finding Your Roots”.

In this case, the famous person is Jesus and the passage is Matthew 1:1-17. Now, there is a really good reason why most people who start reading Matthew’s Gospel start with Chapter 1 and then quickly skip to the start of Chapter 2. Chapter 1 doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because it is pretty much just a list of names.
Matthew opens with the genealogy, the family tree of Jesus. These are “his people”. Most of them are obscure names. Some of them may sound familiar from the Old Testament while others are completely unknown.

Remarkably, there are four women listed among the names. Who they are reveals something important about Jesus and about how God works.

In verse 3, the writer lists Tamar. In the book of Genesis, Tamar was widowed, disguised herself as a harlot, was taken by her father-in-law (Judah, who did not realize it), and bore a child named Perez. By the standards of their day, this was considered incest. Needless to say, this will not be part of our Sunday School curriculum.

The next woman listed, in verse 5, is Rahab from the book of Joshua, who was a prostitute, and bore a son named Boaz.

The third woman listed is Ruth (who has a book of the Bible named after her). She seduces Boaz (something considered a sin during that time), they marry, and have a child.

The fourth woman listed (though not by name) is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, with whom King David had an adulterous affair. The second child of David and Bathsheba was King Solomon. This is the lineage that eventually led to Jesus.

So Matthew decided to open his whole collection of stories about Jesus by saying that he descended from the incest of Tamar, the prostitution of Rahab, the seduction of Ruth, and the adultery of Bathsheba.

Why on earth would anyone ever open a book this way?

I think the reason is rather simple: The moral failings of the people who came before Jesus could not prevent God from accomplishing God’s purpose. And what was that purpose? To proclaim to the world for all time that God can create holiness out of any shortcoming, even any evil. Nothing and no one is beyond the redemption of God.

As you think about your life this Advent season, remember this Good News: As a person of faith, your family tree includes Jesus himself. Consequently, God’s love, forgiveness and grace is greater than any failing in your life.

May his birth this Christmas remind you of the new life that is forever yours no matter your past. God doesn’t give up on anybody. In fact, God cares so much about you that God chose to enter our turbulent world to make sure that you came to know that you can never, ever be outside of God’s redemptive love.

See you in church,
–Rev. Dominic