This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham . . . Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar . . . Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam . . . (Matthew 1:1-7)
In our examination of people involved in the Advent story let us look at the genealogy – that list of who was the father of who – found in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which establishes that Jesus is the long-prophesied descendant of both Abraham and David.
At first glance, we may be struck that this is almost entirely a list of male names. We seem to read only of fathers. Well, that’s the way society worked then and Matthew is doing exactly what was expected of him.
Or is he?
There are, in fact, four women mentioned: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Solomon’s unnamed mother, who was Bathsheba. Even more surprising is that three of them -Tamar, Rahab and Ruth – were non-Jews, and Bathsheba probably was too. Matthew hints that God’s purposes are not confined to the Jewish people. The blessing that Jesus the Messiah is going to bring to the world is something that will affect not just the Jewish nation but the whole world.
The other interesting observation is that these women are not ‘Good Jewish Mothers’ such as Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel. On the contrary, a shadow of guilt hangs over three of the women: Tamar posed as a pagan cult prostitute, Rahab is referred to as a prostitute, and Uriah’s wife Bathsheba committed adultery with King David. On the surface, the genealogy gives Jesus an impeccable Jewish background: he is descended from Abraham through David.
The Advent story is focused on people but it is worth noticing that they are very human people – these are people with flaws. In his genealogy, Matthew is making the point that Jesus’ human ancestry includes not just the great and the good, but the ‘not so great’, the ‘really not very good’ and the ‘rather dubious’.
This is the great principle of grace: God’s love is poured out on all – yes, all – who will receive it. Jesus is coming to the world not for the good people with a perfect past but for those who are less than good and who have a problem past. There’s hope for us all!