i don't preach very often and when i do i am not in the habit of writing sermons out word for word, but because i needed to remember detail and wanted to keep to time i write out a talk i prepared for st marys in ealing yesterday. i actually got the wrong passage so thought i was supposed to be unlocking some gems from jesus' family tree as outlined at the beginning of matthew's gospel. anyway as i have written it out i thought i'd post it here in case it's of interest...
I have a confession - about a month ago when I glanced at the reading for today I misread it and thought it was the first half of Matthew chapter 1 which is the genealogy of Jesus - on the surface not the most exciting reading, a list of names - but I was sad enough to be excited because I like a challenge and also because it contains a few hidden gems. So I am going to focus on that which does connect and lead perfectly into today's reading of the coming of the messiah into the world which is the second half of the same chapter.
Who's looking forward to the Royal wedding next year? One of the issues that was being discussed early on was whether Kate was of good enough stock for royalty - isn't she a commoner?! The messiah would surely have to be of good stock and there are no surprises when Matthew kicks off his narrative [v1]
'This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.'
Matthew is writing for Jews in large part to convince them that their longing for a rescuer, the anointed one, the Christ, the messiah is fulfilled in Jesus. Straightaway he hooks into this longing and sense of good stock by showing that Jesus is in the direct lineage of Abraham and David - two patriarchs and immense figures of the faith. He then lists Isaac, Jacob, Judah… and the reader settles into the familiar roots of the Jewish story.
I saw 'the American' recently. It opens up with a romantic scene - a happy couple caressing. They wake the next day and it's magical snow that they walk across and all of a sudden George Clooney notices footprints and pulls the girl into cover when a shot rings out. What had seemed to be a nice smooth opening has suddenly taken a twist. There is tension in the plot - something else is going on! In a lot of films and books, how they open the story is crucial to setting up plot lines and tension and giving you clues for later.
So we have a happy genealogy going swimmingly when Matthew throws in a shocking twist
'Judah… whose mother was Tamar' [v3]
Tamar is actually the first of 4 women that are a series of shocks creating plot tension, 4 mothers who get mentioned before Mary, the fifth and final mother. In order they are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah's wife (who we know to be Bathsheba but she is not named here). It is incredibly unusual for women to be included - Jewish bloodline dealt with the father, son, grandson etc i.e the male line. And these are not good stock, not 'good' women. They are not the celebrated matriarchs - Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel and so on. They are all connected with some sin and lawbreaking.They are all gentiles, outsiders - Tamar a canaanite; Rahab of Jericho, Ruth a Moabitess, and the wife of Uriah was a Hittite.
Tamar - this story is embarrassing to even read. [Genesis 38]
Tamar marries Judah's son Er who is wicked and struck down by God. Not having children was shameful and the cultural thing to do would be for someone next of kin to give her a child. This is Onan, Er's brother who does sleep with Tamar but spills his seed as he doesn't want a child to be recognised as his brother's heir. There is another brother so Judah says she will have to wait until he is older but deliberately forgets and leaves her in shame and isolation. After Judah's wife dies Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and sleeps with him. When he hears she has become pregnant through prostitution he says she should be burned to death but she sends him his staff which he had given as a fee and he realises his own shameful behaviour. This story of incest, deception, prostitution. This shame has been woven directly into Jesus' story.
Rahab - she was 'a harlot'. He story is that when the Israelites were scouting out Jericho she let soldiers lodge with her. Then when the invasion came she hung a red cord from her window and her and her household were spared. She is commended in Hebrews 11:31 for her faith.
Ruth - there is a whole book of the bible which tells her tale. But in short she leaves her homeland after the death of her husband to travel with her mother in law Naomi to Israel. Through a series of circumstances and her own kindness she is married to Boaz. There is no blot on her character but as a Moabitess she was under a curse. Deut 23:3 tells us that because of sin the Moabites were shut out of the congregation of the Lord. God's own word shut Ruth out by law and yet she is in the ancestry of Jesus Christ! Salvation comes to those who the law shuts out.
Uriah's wife - we don't know why she is not named as Bathsheba though being forgotten and nameless is a common experience for women the world over. Uriah was always described as Uriah the Hittite so it's certainly a signal in the mind of the reader that she is gentile, an outsider. Bathsheba - David commits adultery by having an affair with her and arranging for her husband to be killed. Her first child dies but her second is Solomon. Another shameful circumstance where mercy triumphs over judgement.
So you see what Matthew is doing - just when it seems like he is demonstrating Jesus good pedigree as the messiah he is shocking his readers by including women, including gentiles, including sinners, including shameful stories, including those who the law says should not belong.
[I haven't got time to elaborate on this but a point that is easily missed is that the men in this list are not so squeaky clean either - Mannaseh and Ahaz and even David - war mongering, idolatrous, adulterers, sacrificed own children, murderers….]
Wow! What is going to happen next? Who is this Messiah? Where is Matthew going with this? The messiah's history is one of grace. Curiously this passage, a family tree, is the most reassuring piece of scripture. Do you feel worthy to be part of God's family? Are you good enough? Are there things in your story and life that fill you with shame? Do you feel like you don't belong? You're an outsider? Well guess what - this Jesus has come into the world for just such a person as you. 'I have not come for the righteous but to save sinners…'
The last woman and mother to appear is a pregnant teenager who is not married - Mary, the godbearer. Whilst the readers might have begun with the thought that a messiah would never appear in that way maybe now they will think twice. Matthew has made the case convincingly that grace can come, that a messiah can come through circumstances that you might not expect. The OT reading this morning was a reminder that indeed that is exactly how it was prophesied it would be [Isaiah 7].
Harry is going to leave you with a poem about Mary, the mother of God.