By Sister Kathleen McAlpin
The Jewish community was promised a Messiah from the family of Israel. The story of the birth of this child was not a myth but a narrative of the historical person of Jesus, the Christ. God had a plan for Jesus to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. This was the message of the writer of Matthew’s genealogy. Matthew wants to make the point that the paternal line of Jesus goes back to Abraham and David.
Joseph, Jesus’ legal father, established the claim for Jesus to the throne of David. Matthew’s entire Gospel bears truth to the reality that Jesus is the son of Abraham and the son of David.
The paternal genealogy of Jesus is a significant feature of the Nativity story. It reveals the reality of Jesus as the son of Abraham, the heir of David, and therefore the king of Israel, and the universe.
Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience. Jesus was born into a Jewish society that had a strong patriarchal nature. Surprisingly he included women in his genealogy. There are five women included in the lineage of Jesus, including Mary, the mother of Jesus. Women are often unnamed in the Scriptures; however, Mathew names three of them: Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. The mother of Solomon, Bathsheba, is not named.
Why were these particular women included in the 42 generations of Matthew’s lineage from Abraham to Jesus?
One thing is notable about four of these women. They were non-Jewish. Mary was the only Jewish one of these noteworthy women. Tamar and Rahab were from the Canaanite community, Ruth was a Moab, and Bathsheba was likely a Hittite. Mostly they are considered Gentiles.
Did Matthew want his readers to know that Jesus came to save all people, not just the Jews? I would hope this was in the mind and heart of Matthew for the inclusive future of the Christian community.
Because of the Sisters of Mercy’s critical concerns, I’d like to focus on these five women. Four of them had what some authors called messy backgrounds or very problematic relational and family situations. Nevertheless, they became part of the plan of God and contributed to our Salvation history. Matthew reveals a tender and merciful God who works with all of us even in our conflictual and difficult life situations. Do we trust that this God is still accompanying us through our lives which may often be painful and messy?
All of these five women were mothers in the heritage of Jesus. Except for Mary, they would not be expected to introduce the Messiah to the Jewish community because of their tarnished lives.
Tamar experienced the deaths of her first two wicked husbands at the hand of God. She knew her father-in-law, Judah, would not give her his third son as promised by law. She got pregnant by tricking her father-in-law into a sexual encounter. Tamar was brave enough to force him to accept that he was the father of the child.
Rahab was a Canaanite, a prostitute, and was often named a harlot. She would have been exiled from the Jewish Community by the law of Mosses. However, she hid enemy spies who were sent by Joshua to Jericho and saved their lives. When Joshua destroyed Jericho, God spared Rahab and her family.
Ruth’s reputation was disputed among the Jewish community because of her birth as a Moab. The Moabs were Gentiles who mistreated the Israelites for land rights. However, after her Jewish husband died, Ruth was faithful to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and accompanied her to Israel.
Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, was taken by David for his wife while she was still married to Uriah. Some commentators say she went willingly with David. David, however, had Uriah killed to cover up their adultery.
Mary too had a complex life situation as a young woman. She was pregnant before she was married and could have been stoned to death under the law. However, as a pious Jew, she consented to God’s plan to become the mother of the Messiah despite the possible scandal.
These unconventional women are essential to the narrative of Jesus and carried out the plan of God. They had hope for a better life as they made choices and took risks.
Tamar endangered her life to have a child with her father-in-law which Judah owed her. This was her best way to the future.
Rahab went against her own people to help the spies of the enemy Israel. She did this to save herself and her family. She later joined the community of God’s people.
Ruth, in a risk of faith, left Moab with her mother-in-law. To save Naomi and herself from poverty, she married an Israelite who, in God’s plan, recognized her virtue.
Bathsheba, when David was near death, asked for her son to become king. Through the prophet Nathan, she was able to have her son Solomon become king.
Mary had the courage to consent to God’s extraordinary plan to become pregnant with her son, Jesus. This young Jewish woman trusted God and we are all forever grateful.
It is amazing to ponder how God used the difficult and painful situations of these five women to highlight the genealogy of Jesus. Their reputations, gender, or ethnicity had no bearing on their place in the family of Jesus and the Kin-dom of God.
May we hear the call of this Advent to be as inclusive as God!
May we also be as welcoming this Advent as Jesus, who was of mixed race, to all we encounter in our story of God’s people!
May we be forever grateful this Advent for all who responded to the call of God in our Christian story!
Terri Bednarz, RSM. Discuss the prophetic function of Biblical humor in the Genealogy of Matthew. 3 Nov. 2022.
Margaret Mowczko, “The Women in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus,” 2020. Accessed 15 Nov. 2022.
Deacon Robert Schnell, “What’s The Deal With The Women In Matthew’s Genealogy Of Jesus?,” St. Richard Catholic Church inRichfield, MN, (strichards.com). Accessed 15 Nov. 2022.
Subby Szterszky, “The women in Jesus’ genealogy: An Advent reflection,” 2022, Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. Accessed 15 Nov. 2022.