The Crazy Thing About the Abusive Characters In Jesus' Family Tree
You think your family is messed up? You should read about the stuff people in Jesus’ family lineage did! They aren’t examples of how to be great followers of God. They are example of God’s extreme faithfulness to unfaithful people and that’s truly a crazy thing!
Introduction to the Book of Matthew
(My reflections on Matthew 1:1-17.)
In the book of Matthew, we see a glimpse of God’s plan for messy people to know him, in the ever so exciting GENEALOGY that starts the book. (Yup! genealogy!)
I know, these are the verses you get to skim over because they are just lists of names. I get it. Boring. Go ahead. Skim away. I barely care about my own genealogy…
Only…just take a second to look at Matthew 1:1
“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
How incredibly cool is that?
“None cool” you say?
Let me explain for just a minute… trust me, it’s freaking AWESOME.
Matthew’s Audience and the Jewish Historical Significance of Genealogies.
Matthew was writing primarily to Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity. He starts the book off with a genealogy which uses the same format as the foundational genealogies of Genesis. These genealogies were about how God began his work with the Hebrew people to build a nation that would bless all people.
Everyone in Matthew’s Jewish audience was familiar with the stories of the people in the genealogies. They were the patriarchs of the Jewish nation. In their day, Jewish boys memorized the first five books of the Bible (the Torah). So, they understood the significance of what Matthew was saying, and his ballsy boldness in linking what he wrote to Genesis.
Think about it! The Jews believed that they were special because of their ancestry. They believed they were God’s chosen people and because of their birth, better than everyone else.
Matthew Turned Things Around
In Matthew’s genealogy, the format is different. In Genesis, the list of names was given the title of the most important patriarch in the family lineage. This was used to give importance to the person whose story was being shared.
It’s like if I wanted to impress you with how close me and Cardi B are to being bff’s, I’d start with her name in the title, cause she is the famous one. Then it would have her best friend’s name. Then it would have the name of Cardi B’s best friend’s manicurist. Then the name of my cousin who goes to the same manicurist. Then my name. Then you’d see how important I am because my cousin gets her nails done at the same place that Cardi B’s best friend goes to.
Well, it’s not exactly like that…The point is that the formula goes: start with the person who gives the list significance. In Matthew 1, that person is Jesus. Matthew reversed the formula. He was telling his very Jewish audience that Jesus was different. He didn’t get his significance from being related to them. They got their significance from him. Boom!
Matthew was basically saying, the point of all our Jewish history was leading to this right here, the birth of Jesus.
The Stories in Jesus’ Family Lineage
That’s the coolest thing ever, especially if you know the stories of the people in the list.
I mean Abraham. Yeah, he left his homeland to follow God, but he also let his wife be put in harems twice because he was scared. He told people she was his sister to avoid confrontation with anyone who thought she was beautiful…yeah…traumatic! Then he got rich from how pleased Pharaoh was with her. Then, he had a child with one of his servants but sent that child away when he had another child with his wife (JERK!).
Then Jacob who seems to have been a spoiled mama’s boy, he tricked his brother out of his inheritance.
Judah: uhm… yeah, he abandoned his daughter-in-law, then later slept with her when she dressed up as a prostitute, then tried to have her killed for sleeping with someone until he found out he was the someone.
David: He was king. He used his power to sleep with a woman whose husband was a faithful servant in his army. David got her pregnant then had her husband killed.
Shall I go on?
The Significance of Starting With This Genealogy
All of these stories of messed up people trying to follow God, royally screwing up, and getting lots of do overs and re-directions.
They don’t get their significance because they were great men, we should all look up to and emulate. They are significant because they got to be part of God’s story.
A lot of these guys were pretty much horrible people at some point in their story still God directed them.
That’s freaking amazing. Because the God who created this entire universe cares about really messed up people and works to bring beauty and purpose to their stories.
Matthew Reflects God’s Amazing Value of Women
And there’s something else…
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Solomon’s mom, and Mary are included.
Listen, if you understand just a little about how disrespected women were in all of the ancient world, that statement would get you giddy with excitement.
It was radical, unheard of for Matthew to include women in this genealogy. Women didn’t matter to ancient people. They were property, not considered worthy of teaching, the were so unvalued that their testimony didn’t count in court. They seldom owned anything, they had almost no opportunity for making money. If their husband died, they were passed on as an inheritance to the next man. If there was no next man, they were left destitute with not much choice but begging and scavenging or being a prostitute.
So, it is a big stinking deal that Matthew includes the stories of these women. It certainly didn’t gain him any respect in the ancient world.
And all the stories of these women actually are examples of character traits to be looked up to. Tamar is the whole reason Judah changed his life, Rahab was a prostitute who boldly protected the Israelite spies, Solomon’s mom was a victim who made the best of her situtation, and Mary was a teen mom entrusted with raising the Messiah. The fact that they were held up as heroes of the faith was a joke to most ancient people, but it completely reflects God’s heart for the survivors in this world.
The Significance of All These Messed Up Stories
But what’s really crazy that anyone in any time period would include any of these people in their religious story. I’ve read tons of literature and one thing I know is how religious literature is supposed to work.
The formula is supposed to be: tell stories of heroic characters with the traits your religion values and hold them up as the ideal. Also, religious groups may tell negative stories about people not holding your religion’s values and failing tragically at life as warning.
What you aren’t supposed to do is tell messed up stories about people breaking all of the rules while being in your religion. That’s just weird. What is anybody supposed to do with that?
Well, throughout the Bible, the point we are told over and over is that it isn’t supposed to be about following a bunch of rules, it’s supposed to be about knowing God. And all those messed up people in the list are significant because they were part of God’s plan for the world to know him. The plan culminated in Jesus and the communities he came to build where messed up people could find healing and the freedom to become who God created them to be.
As we continue to journey together through the book of Matthew, I think we will be amazed at how incredibly awesome Jesus really was. I hope we will challenge each other along the way and grow in our understanding.
Thanks for reading and sharing!