Day 25: SCANDAL
Matthew 1:16-17 …and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
Matthew’s genealogy is one of the best parts of the bible.
I read a feminist argument recently, about the ways that in patrilineal societies, women get left out of genealogies. As if any of those begats would have been possible without women’s ovaries, wombs, cervixes, labor. The author alluded to biblical genealogies as a cardinal example of these patriarchal lists.
While it’s true that the begats do lend themselves to female erasure, Matthew is not falling for that old trick.
Matthew includes four women in the genealogy of Jesus.
Of course, there are dozens and dozens more who do get left out, erased from the collective memory, cut clean out of the narrative. But the genealogy of Jesus is not exactly as misogynistic as some might have us believe.
And these four women: hoo boy.
- Tamar: after her father-in-law refused to provide protection for her after two of her husbands died, she pretended to be a prostitute, intercepted her father-in-law on the road, got pregnant by him, and forced him into providing her protection as the mother of his heirs.
- Rahab: an actual prostitute who lent shelter and secrecy to Israelite spies who were plotting to take over the city of Jericho, winning herself and her family lasting protection once they gained control of the city.
- Ruth: wily widow who decided to stick with her widowed mother-in-law instead of returning to her own home and family, tricked a distant cousin into having sex with her and, again, offering inheritance, standing and protection for both her and her chosen family.
- Mary: unmarried, teenage pregnant woman, whose lineage and importance were negligible, but who was nonetheless chosen by God to bear God’s incarnation of God’s self.
Talk about scandal.
The “wife of Uriah,” i.e., Bathsheba, also gets a side-eye mention in the genealogy. She’s not mentioned by name, just as the ‘other man’s wife.’ King David saw Bathsheba bathing, lusted after her, summoned her over, got her pregnant, and eventually killed her husband in order to avoid owning up to what he did. Bathsheba’s not a great story of female agency, but the fact that Matthew mentions her and the unconventional turn the lineage takes there at her pregnancy is worthwhile.
The women who get named as vital to the house and lineage that produced Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, are women who were ignored, betrayed, shunned, widowed, in charge of their own sexuality, makers of unpopular decisions, aiders and abetters of spies and criminals, unwed mothers, boundary crossers, the stuff of scandal.
I’m intrigued that each of these women violated some sexual boundary or taboo, that each one took charge of her own body and her own space in such a way as to secure her own life and, in each case, the lives of others as well.
I do not understand the church’s insistence on some myth of sexual purity. Where in the world did we get the idea that God wants us to all fall in line with the given sexual assumptions of our day? That’s not what Tamar did, it’s not what Rahab did, not what Ruth or Mary or, really, any of the other women mentioned in the New Testament did.
These women who refused patriarchal rules and regulations ended up making salvation possible.
These women who crossed sexual boundaries were direct ancestors of Jesus – you know, the one who hung out with lepers and eunuchs and women and tax collectors.
These women did not only what they had to do, but what they felt compelled to do – not by external cultural rules or assumptions, but by some divine inner leading, something much stronger and purer and more important than What the Dudes in Charge Told Them to Do.
And if they hadn’t – if they had not broken taboos, sexual mores, cultural expectations and assumed gender roles – well: no Jesus. No incarnation. No life of preaching, teaching, healing, exorcising and raising the dead. No resurrection. No Christ. No Christianity.
I am thinking, these days, about unforeseen consequences of our choices and our actions. I am wondering if any of those women knew how powerful their actions would be, down the line. I am wondering if some of the women in my life know how powerful their choices have been and are becoming. I am wondering what things I agonize over, lament, fight against and feel shame about might be the very places – vulnerable, unexpected and powerful places – where God is doing some incredible thing even while I fuss and wallow.