Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

Matthew 1:1-17

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah

     1A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

        2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob,

       Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

        3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

       Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram,

        4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

       Nahshon the father of Salmon,

        5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

       Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse,

        6 and Jesse the father of King David.

      David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

        7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

       Abijah the father of Asa,

        8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

       Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

        9 Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz,

       Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

        10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon,

       Amon the father of Josiah,

        11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to


         12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

        Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

        13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim,

        Eliakim the father of Azor,

        14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud,

        15 Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan,

        Matthan the father of Jacob,

        16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of

        Jesus who is called the Messiah.

     17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

OK, so, by now, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy to have wasted your time with this mind-numbing list of all the ancestors of Jesus. And I don’t blame you if that is, in fact, what you’re thinking. Some published lectionary lists even leave this passage out – figuring, I guess, that nobody would be crazy enough to read it.

But stay with me a bit, because in spite of how boring it might seem, there are a couple of things about this genealogy of Jesus that are surprisingly interesting.

Probably the place to start is by reminding ourselves that the Gospel of Matthew is understood to have been compiled specifically to tell the story of Jesus to people from the Hebrew tradition. And for them, it would be critically important to establish that a person said to be the Messiah was descended from the right ancestry. And in the minds of people at the time, the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit didn’t change the understanding of his ancestry.

It was widely known that the Messiah was to be a descendant of King David, so making that connection would have made a big difference in how seriously Jewish readers took the idea that Jesus really was the one who had been foretold.

But there’s an even more interesting aspect to this list of ancestors, one that’s also related to the intended audience of Matthew. It involves the fact that among the forty-two generations of male ancestors of Jesus, only four women are mentioned before his mother Mary. Here are the four:

Tamar (verse 3) was a daughter-in-law of Judah, head of the tribe that bore his name. When Tamar’s husband died, Judah arranged for her to marry another of his sons, as was the custom of the time. But when the second son died as well, Judah refused to give Tamar another son. So she disguised herself as a prostitute, and managed to get herself impregnated by Judah. When Judah learned about what had happened, he confessed that he had sinned by failing to provide for Tamar, as he was obliged to do. And Tamar and her son became ancestors of Jesus.

Rahab (verse 5) was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. When Israelite spies came to the city during the wars for control of the country, Rahab hid them and helped them escape. So for her kindness to the spies, Rahab and her family were spared during the subsequent battle, and she also became an ancestor of Jesus.

Ruth (also verse 5) was a young gentile widow who settled in Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Living in poverty, the two women survived by gleaning, which was gathering up the little bit of crops Jews always left at the edge of their fields. Ruth attracted the attention of the owner of a large farm, and on the advice of Naomi, she went to where the landowner was sleeping and “uncovered his feet.” The landowner, whose name was Boaz, took Ruth as his wife, and she became the grandmother of King David.

The fourth woman is Bathsheba (verse 6), identified as “Uriah’s wife.” Literature has portrayed Bathsheba as having an adulterous romance with King David, although the account in Second Samuel makes it sound less like a romance and more like sexual imposition by the king. In any case, Bathsheba would be the mother of David’s successor, Solomon.

So what unites these four women who are included among the 42 generations of male ancestors of Jesus? Each of the four had something in her history that would be considered sexually irregular in Hebrew culture. And each of the four came to have a respected place in the history of their people.

The reason all this matters is that the next passage in the Gospel of Matthew is the story of how Jesus was born to an unmarried young woman who was discovered to be pregnant while she was engaged. Some strictly upright Jewish readers would no doubt have considered this scandalous – but Matthew had pointed out that four times in history, women with unusual sexual histories had been used by God to do great things in the life of their people.

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus would find himself in conflict with elements of Hebrew society who criticized him for befriending people with unorthodox life stories. But the creator of the Gospel of Matthew lays the groundwork for Jesus’ life story by pointing out that it is sometimes those unorthodox people through whom God can work most powerfully.

Let’s pray. Lord, protect us against the urge to judge and dismiss others because there is something unusual in their life stories. When we are tempted to do that, remind us that Jesus said that it was for just such as these that he came into the world. Amen.

Grace and Peace,