Over the past few years shows about family trees have become popular. It doesn’t surprise me. People love hearing stories. TV shows about ancestry not only tell stories of, let’s face it, interesting people, but also help connect people into a story. I’ve heard that adopted children want to know who their birth parents are. It gives a sense of belonging. But what happens when the past is full of skeletons? Christmas time helps because it highlights Jesus’ dysfunctional family.
Have you ever wondered why Matthew begins his Gospel with a family tree? It’s weird. And hardly grabs the reader’s attention. Instead your eyes glaze over as you read name after name. I would not have included some of these people. Many have dark pasts, histories better left unsaid. But even in this list of names there is a message if you listen hard enough.
The list mentions 5 women. This is unusual for such a list. Their inclusion catch the eye and each are worth looking at.
Tamar’s story is found in Genesis 38. To put it mildly, the story is scandalous. Tamar married to 1 of Judah’s 3 sons. When Tamar’s husband dies before having a son, it is his brother’s duty to marry the widow and have children with her. (I know, it’s historically and culturally weird.) To put it delicately, he fails to perform his duty and also dies before any children. Now, Judah should offer his third son to Tamar to marry but instead he sends her away in shame.
Tamar sees her opportunity to have a child as Judah is travelling near her home. She dresses up as temple prostitute and seduces him to sleep with her. When she falls pregnant, she reveals her deception to her father-in-law and they have a son.
The mere mention of Tamar’s name brings this story to mind. It’s one of failure to duty, deception and sleeping with father-in-laws. Who in their right mind would include this story? It’s far easier to gloss it over and keep it hidden. Yet this is part of Jesus’ dysfunctional family.
Rahab’s story has similarities to Tamar’s except she didn’t have to pretend to be a prostitute. She ran a brothel in a city named Jericho. She is best known for hiding 2 Israelite spies on her premises guaranteeing her survival after the city’s destruction. As Rahab began to follow God she became part of his people. Her faith was risky but worth it.
I imagine if Jesus were here he would say “Hi. My name is Jesus and I’m part of a dysfunctional family. Let me tell you about my great, great, etc. Grandmother Rahab. She was a Canaanite prostitute but through the grace of God didn’t stay that way. Instead she came to know God and acted for my people. She’s in my family tree for good reason – strange but good.”
Ruth is my favourite character in the Bible. She was from a place called Moab (in modern-day Jordan.) Moab doesn’t have a good reputation in the Bible. When they are not trying to seduce Jewish men, they are known for drunken incestuous orgies. To cut a long story short, after her first husband dies, Ruth decides to go Israel and her mother-in-law (a Jew) and begins to follow God. She marries Boaz, and finds acceptance among the tribal elders. She is even invited to enter the story of Perez (Judah and Tamar’s son.)
Ruth’s people have a dark past. She was a widow, an immigrant, living in a culture that distrusted her. And she was financially poor. In every way, Ruth was disadvantaged, but this didn’t matter. Even though she brings obstacles, God brings her into his family.
Bathsheba is a victim of sexual abuse. King David orders her to his courts to sleep with her. She has no option but obey – she an object for his gratification. After she gets pregnant from this encounter David arranges for her husband’s death. Affairs. Murder. Who wants this in a family tree? It’s part of Jesus’. It doesn’t matter how much abuse you’ve faced, Jesus won’t keep you hidden. You are part of his family tree.
Everyone knows the story of knows the story of Mary. She is the virgin who gave birth to Jesus. Mary, the virgin who was pregnant. Just imagine the scandal. Of course, she has an explanation, but not even her fiancé, Joseph, believes her. He plans to break off the engagement until an angelic visitation. But the scandal sticks. Imagine the insinuations, the pointing fingers and the gossip. And Jesus was born. The first Christmas. But the delivery suite was a stable. No one would open their door and let this nine-month pregnant girl in. The scandal was just too big.
Jesus’ Dysfunctional Family and You
Jesus doesn’t hide his family history. Because he doesn’t hide skeletons in his closet, I have hope. I have my own skeletons and you do too. Regrets and past mistakes. Things that are easier left hidden. But Jesus’ genealogy says he includes broken people in his family. He is God with us. As I read his family tree I hear Jesus speaking. He says “My name is Jesus and I have a dysfunctional family. Let me tell you about my adopted brother Darryl. He has a past full of mistakes but I haven’t turned him away. Instead I brought him into my family.”
You’ll hear him say the same thing about you if you listen. But it’s still a choice. Will you listen for his voice? Will you let him bring you into his family?