Kings and Harlots: A Genealogy of the Incarnation

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The birth narrative in Matthew is found in the first chapter, but it doesn’t begin with the story of Joseph and Mary.

We begin there; we like to skip the boring parts and get right to the interesting parts.

Matthew actually begins the birth narrative with a genealogy, but who reads those? You can’t pronounce half the names anyway.

Admit it, you usually skip over the genealogy to get to the good stuff. Maybe you skim it. But you probably only read it when you are doing one of those read-through-the-Bible programs where you are kind of obligated to read every word, otherwise you don’t get to say you read through the entire Bible.

But I’m pretty sure Matthew began this way for a good reason.

A genealogy is a like bridge that gets you from one place to another, in this case from Abraham to Jesus. This genealogy is actually three bridges—one from Abraham to David, one from David to the Exile, and the other from the Exile to Jesus.

The purpose of these genealogical bridges is to establish the identity of the final person in the list. In Matthew’s genealogy we therefore learn that Jesus—

  • Is part of the Promise made to Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed by God through him (Genesis 12:1-3);
  • Is part of the Promise made to King David that his throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16);
  • And is part of the Promise that God would preserve a remnant from among the exiles, a shoot from the stump of Jesse who would establish a kingdom of righteousness and peace (Isaiah 11).

It’s therefore important in reading genealogies to pay attention to the bridges, but that’s not all it’s important to pay attention to.

You should also pay attention if the genealogy departs from established norms.

Which this one does.

It includes women.

Middle Eastern genealogies don’t include women.

Biblical genealogies don’t include women.

Genesis has three genealogies naming over ninety men, but no women.

Luke’s genealogy of Jesus contains the names of seventy-six men and not a single female.

Matthew’s genealogy has four women.

We should pay attention to this.

First is Tamar, an Aramean who dressed as a prostitute and tricked Judah, the father of her two deceased husbands (talk about bad luck!) to sleep with her in order to get him to give her his third son in marriage like he was supposed to do.

That liaison led to her becoming pregnant with twins, who would end up being the half-brothers (and step-sons?) of her deceased husbands.

Sounds like a soap opera plot. Read it in Genesis 38.

According to Leviticus she and Judah were guilty of incest and should have been stoned to death. Instead they were both named in the genealogy of Jesus, along with their twin sons.

Next on the list is Rahab, a Canaanite woman from Jericho.

Like Tamar Rahab also dressed as a prostitute—because she actually was a prostitute. She was also a traitor to her townspeople, but apparently that’s okay because she betrayed them to Israelite men she had never met before.

Then comes a Moabite woman named Ruth. Her story is similar to Tamar’s in that she married into an Israelite family, but her situation is worse because all the men in the family died, leaving her with no one to take her in.

She decides to stick with her mother-in-law Naomi, who devises a plan wherein she would sleep with their kinsman Boaz and he would like it so much that he would arrange to marry Ruth.

Whether she simply slept at his feet and actually slept with him (wink-wink) is somewhat disputed. Some people can’t seem to imagine that it would be the latter, but given what Tamar and Rahab did it’s not out of the question.

The fourth woman in the genealogy is Bathsheba. In a culture in which women are required to be extremely modest about showing their bodies, she take a bath in front of a window.

In the nude of course.

In clear view of the palace of King David.

While her husband is off fighting a war for David.

Resulting in an affair and a pregnancy.

She’s so repugnant to Matthew that he won’t even mention her name, referring to her only as “the wife of Uriah.”

These are some of the ones from whom Jesus comes.

Ruth the innocent righteous one, and Tamar the not-so-innocent righteous one.

Rahab the righteous harlot, who betrayed her townspeople for a righteous cause.

Bathsheba who betrayed her soldier husband for an royal upgrade.

Sinners and saints.

Kings and prostitutes.

The moral and the immoral.

Jews and Gentiles.

The ones to whom the Promises is made, and the ones excluded from the Promise.

All of humanity is represented in his ancestry. All the people he came to save are found in his lineage.

You and I, we’re there too.

Paul says that in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Colossians 1:19 NRSV) but it’s also true that in Jesus dwells all the fullness of humanity.

That’s what the incarnation is all about: the fullness of God and the fullness of humanity coming together in Jesus.

Just as the end of John’s Apocalypse has heaven coming down to earth so you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends, so also heaven and earth come together in Jesus.

As with the kingdom, so with the king.

In the coming together of God’s fullness and human fullness, God is reconciling the world, tearing down the walls of hostility that divide us so that we too can experience the fullness of humanity in the fullness of God, becoming one in the Christ who is himself One with God.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / karimala

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