As Christmas approaches our attentions turns to how the Messiah comes into the world. We return once again to the first few chapters of each Gospel, to Bethlehem, to the manger, to shepherds, angels and wise men bringing weird gifts.
As we do, I’m thinking about Jesus’ genealogy at the beginning of Matthew … that boring list of begetting that we usually tune out for. As with so much of Scripture, our 21st Century eyes fail to see the revolutionary and challenging nature of the text if we don’t know the surrounding stories.
There are four women mentioned in this list – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba – a list that speaks to the pedigree of Jesus’ lineage.
Tamar is the twice widowed Jewish woman who disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law … to fulfill God’s will for her family. Rather than judgment, her bizarre actions bring repentance and restoration.
Rahab is the prostitute who welcomes and hides the Jewish spies doing recon for Joshua before Israel takes Jericho. The bad girl turned good who is welcomed into the fold.
Ruth is the alien widow, the Moabite woman who binds herself to her mother-in-law, Naomi (and her God), when her husband dies and Naomi returns to Israel. She’s an impoverished field worker who seduces her boss, Boaz, a wealthy land-owner. The outsider who finds an unlikely and unconventional place in God’s people.
Bathsheba is the woman David sees bathing on a rooftop and wants for his own. Hers is a complex story about consent … Can you really say no to the sexual advances of the king who comes a-calling? David gets her pregnant and has her husband killed, hoping to hide his fault and shame.
Such strange names to be included. The kind of names we would write in small letters in our family trees – not because they are wrong – but because they are complex … messy … they require explanation and justification.
This is not the pedigree one expects of the Saviour. His family tree puts the ‘mess’ in ‘Messiah’.
Jesus himself is born to an unwed teenager in Nazareth. The pregnancy is privately understood as being from God but she is never publicly vindicated. The gossipy whispers that the religious tend to be best at follow her throughout her life … and they follow Jesus too.
When he begins his public ministry, the Gospel writers share them …
‘Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?’ (John 1:46)
‘Isn’t this Mary’s son?’ Wink, wink. “‘Don’t we know his brothers and sisters?’ And they took offense at him.” (Mark 6:3)
Jesus’ lineage is littered with people who were judged unworthy in the present and yet respected and revered in hindsight.
The same was true of Jesus Himself. Many who judged, condemned and whispered about him while he lived only understood him and revered him after he came back to life.
People will find countless reasons to write you off. Your past. Your pedigree. Your falls and failures. Even your triumphs and victories. People find excuses to take offense at you doing your best to muddle along the path that God has called you to.
Just remember that you don’t answer to them. The whispers don’t define you. You answer to the One whose name comes at the end of a long list of broken and messy lives – just like yours – and who seeks to make His name known in the midst of your broken messiness.
We all put the ‘mess’ in ‘Messiah’. And yet the Messiah keeps longing to work through us.