“Who are your people?” It’s a common question here in the deep south, but it’s an age-old question for understanding and accepting a newcomer. As long as there have been families and tribes, we get to know them through their lineage, their people. We often “place” folks by their family connections.
Matthew begins his Gospel of Jesus Christ by lisring the geneaology of Jesus, making a point of answering that age-old question: Who are the Messiah’s people? In doing so, Matthew traces the Savior’s line for us and TO us.
If you read Matthew 1:1-17, this geneology of Jesus extends roughly 840 years (3 lists of 14 generations each, figuring about 20 years per generation). The Messiah’s ancestors move from the homeless nomad Abraham to the high point of Israel’s monarchy during the reigns of Kings David and Solomon to the low point of Israel’s deportation in captivity to Babylon to the high point of all human history — “Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah” (1:16).
But along with tracing broad moments in Israel’s history, our Savior’s family tree includes pagans and prostitutes, adulterers and ego-maniacs, and ends with a young maiden in an out-of-the-way village, the virgin Mary. Matthew opens his account of our Savior by tracing the line of Jesus’ earthly family, and in an UNUSUAL manner for a Jewish geneaology, includes not only men but women. And what women!
Looking at Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, we see full humanity connnected to Jesus. Three of these four women are Gentiles and one quite possibly marries a Gentile. And then there’s Mary, merely a maiden.
You see, as much as Christ Jesus embodies a new actof divine creation by the power of the Holy Spirit, he also represents a family of questionable parentage, including several men and women of ill repute and compromised virute and uncertain futures. Augustine, 5th century bishop and a towering teacher of Christian faith, once described the Church as a “mixed body.”
By starting the Gospel with a family tree, Matthew alerts us and all people that God has truly come to us as one of us. Like so many of our biblical ancestors, our lives can be a tangle of ambiguity, mixed motives, or selfish acts. And yet, it is precisely to be with us imperfect men and women that God comes in Jesus Christ.
So if your life is a mixed bag, we have a place in our Savior’s family tree. We have a place in the stable, kneeling with gritty shepherds and with majestic magi.