Matthew 1:1-16 Common English Bible (CEB)
Genealogy of Jesus
1 A record of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Aram.
4 Aram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz was the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asaph.
8 Asaph was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Joram.
Joram was the father of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amos.
Amos was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
This was at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Achim.
Achim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary—of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Christ.
It’s Advent. It’s the season of preparation for Christmas. It’s not busy preparation like the rest of the world this time of year. It’s quieter. It’s time to get still, get quiet, prepare.
We prepare to be amazed. Prepare for the birth of Jesus, We prepare to hear the story again and be changed. Meister Eckhart said, “We are all mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.” Advent is a time to ask, what’s waiting to be born? In me? In the world? What is waiting to be born?
This is how Matthew starts the story…
Not exactly a dramatic opener, is it? Matthew starts by telling us where Jesus came from. Jesus came from somewhere. He didn’t appear fully formed from heaven. He had people. Those people shaped him.
Matthew lists forty-four of Jesus’ ancestors. The most interesting thing in the list is that among those forty-four names, there are four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Genealogies didn’t usually include women. So, it’s notable. It’s worth asking, why? Who are they?
There’s Tamar: Tamar’s from way back. Tamar is married to the son of a man named Judah. Her husband dies, which means that her father-in-law, Judah, is supposed to protect her within his household. But he doesn’t. He turns her out. Completely abdicates his responsibility, leaving her totally vulnerable—with no standing, no protection. So she takes matters into her own hands. She disguises herself, tricks her father-in-law into sleeping with her. He thinks she’s a prostitute, so he offers to pay her with a baby goat. Since he didn’t have a goat with him for this conjugal encounter, she asks for his personal seal as collateral. Then she gets pregnant, and it’s a scandal, and she brings out that seal and confronts him, saying, you didn’t do right by me. He concedes and takes her in and provides for her. Scripture says that he didn’t sleep with her again, either. He just protected her as part of the family—the way he was supposed to. That’s Tamar.
Rahab was a prostitute living in Canaan at the time when the Israelites were getting ready to invade. Everyone is terrified of this coming invasion. These two Israelite spies show up at Rahab’s brothel. Rahab hides them and covers for them. She knows war is coming, and this is a way to secure her future and protect her family. Before she helps the spies sneak out, she makes them promise that they will spare her and her family when the time comes. Rahab and her family are the only survivors when Jericho’s invaded. That’s Rahab.
There’s Ruth—we talked about Ruth a few weeks ago. She was a Moabite, the most hated of Israel’s enemies. She and her mother-in-law Naomi return to Naomi’s home in mourning. They’ve both lost their husbands, and they are facing starvation. But, together, they identify a wealthy distant relative. They find a way for Ruth to be noticed, and then Ruth seduces him into marrying her and providing for them. That’s Ruth.
Then there’s Bathsheba. Matthew doesn’t actually use her name. He calls her the wife of Uriah—which is part of the point. She was married. Her husband was at war. She was bathing one day, and King David watched. She wasn’t bathing in a seductive way. In a society before indoor plumbing, you bathe outdoors. In societies like that the practice is that you just don’t look—any more than we would stick our head over a bathroom stall to catch a glimpse. You just don’t look. But David looks. And he doesn’t look away. He finds out she’s married. And still he doesn’t step back. He sends for her. When the king sends for you, it’s a command, not a request. So Bathsheba doesn’t get to consent. She couldn’t possibly decline. She is commanded. David has sex with her, without her consent. She gets pregnant. David tries to cover his tracks, first by calling Uriah back from the war to sleep with her, and then when Uriah won’t do that, David has him killed. Bathsheba, though, refuses to remain a victim. She uses every bit of leverage she has to ensure that her son, Solomon, will become the successor to David. That’s Bathsheba.
These are Jesus’ grandmothers. Four of them, anyway. Imagine the other 41. You can find approximately a million books that refer to these women as the “bad girls of the bible.” Let’s get this straight: they’re not girls, and they’re not bad. But they’ve sure gotten that rap. Almost every single scholarly commentary on this passage talks about how sinful they are. They say, isn’t it amazing that Jesus came from such sinners?! It proves that no matter how sinful we are, even if we’re sinful in scandalous ways, Jesus will still love you and save you.
That’s true. God’s love extends over all sin.
But that’s not Matthew’s point. Because these aren’t stories of sin. They’re stories of survival—scrappy, crafty, resilient survival. These women are foreigners. They’re abused by the men around them. They are victims of the patriarchal, violent society they live in. But they are not defined by that. In the midst of all of that, they fight for their rights, secure their own protection, and ensure the well-being of their families. These are stories of power. When we talk about the power of God, this is what it looks like. Scrappy, crafty, resilient survival that is not overcome by the sins of the world. That is the power of God.
There is sin here in this genealogy. There’s Abraham—he repeatedly offered his wife up to powerful men. Jacob lied and cheated his blind father. David was a rapist and a murderer. Rehoboam lost most of the kingdom of Israel through arrogance and greed. Ahaziah was a mass murderer, exactly like his dad. There’s plenty of sin here. Whatever our own vices are, whatever sins have been passed down from our ancestors, we can find it here. And the good news still stands: Love has the power to redeem our deepest failings. When we talk about the mercy of God, this is what it looks like.
This genealogy holds it all: the power of God, the mercy of God.
This is where Christ comes from: from generations of sin, and from scrappy, crafty, resilient power. This is how Christ is born: in an empire of sin, to a young woman pregnant in dubious circumstances. This is the mercy of God. This is the power of God.
Love has the power to redeem our deepest failings. Love has the power to fuel amazing resilience.
So I wonder, what is waiting to be born in you? What is waiting to be born in our nation?
Out of our sin, and through scrappy, crafty resilience, what is waiting to be born? What are the stories in your life of brokenness and pain and sin? Where is the reckoning with Abraham, Jacob, and David? What are the stories of resilience and strength and power? Where do you stand with our grandmothers Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
Those stories of brokenness and power are the birth pangs of new life. And to give birth you need scrappy, crafty, resilient power—the power of God. So, what is waiting to be born in you?