Or is it a family tree full of failures?
I have been reading a chapter a day through the gospels recently and last week I came to the gospel of Matthew.
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the first chapter of Matthew because I knew that it was just a long list of names. So I wasn’t expecting to get a great deal of inspiration.
How wrong could I be?
Let me just give you a flavour from you the first few verses
“The family tree of Jesus Christ, David son, Abraham’s son:
Abraham had Isaac,
Isaac had Jacob,
Jacob had Judah and his brothers,
Judah had Peres and Zerah (the mother was Tamar)
Perez had Hezron,
Hezron had Aram
Aram had Ammindab,
and so on and on and on….
Matthew is trying to prove that Jesus had good Jewish status. It’s like an American trying to trace his ancestry back to George Washington. There’s a lot of kudos involved. But the huge irony is that after he has gone through the 14 generations between Abraham and King David, then another 14 generations between King David and the exile, and then a final 14 generations between the exile and he finally arrives at Joseph – there is actually NO biological link!
Sure Joseph is a very important character especially in Matthew’s accounts of the birth of Jesus. But Matthew make no atttempt to hide that here at the bottom of this fancy ancestry list Joseph was not Jesus’s father!
It’s a total ‘fail’ in terms of ‘who do you think you are?’ ancestor searching. Having gone through this entire family tree, he only manages to establish that Joseph is a good upright Jew who was related right back to Abraham.
but that was only the first hilarious ‘fail’. When you start digging in to the actual stories represented by those names, oh my, oh my – you have something like a cross between a soap opera and day time ‘tell all’ tittle tattle TV show. WHAT a list of rollicking stories along the way
I made some notes beside some of the names:
Abraham had Isaac, (only just and only after a disobedient diversion that produced Ishmael who fathered a whole other nation due to desperate sibling rivalry)
Isaac had Jacob, (and Esau, who, guess what? fathered a whole other nation, due to sibling rivalry
Jacob had Judah and his brothers, (Remember Joseph the musical, ‘Jacob, Jacob and sons’? All born from four bickering wives, and these boys took sibling rivalry to stratospheric heights – little bro Jo was thrown into a pit and sold into slavery.)
Judah had Peres and Zerah … but wait for it, the boys are not the real story here – the mother is. Tamar posed as a prostitute and had sex with her father in law which, strange as it sounds, was actually to her credit as she stood up for her rights but, wow, was it morally dubious – I bet nobody gets told THAT story in sunday school!
And on it goes. By the time we get to the kings between King David and the exile we are going from moral high ground to slippery slope faster than you can say ‘next king please’ and some of those kings weren’t just dubious, they were depraved.
And yet ….and yet, they ALL take their place in the story!
The whole of humanity is here. Yes I realise it’s mostly men but that’s a product of its time. There are five fabulous women who all get included, the first four are sexually compromised but morally upright (go figure!) and the final one is Mary who is simply magnificent in her straightforward willingness to cooperate with God’s idea to bypass the whole male lineage issue!
Why did I get excited about this reading? Because often people think that being able to play a part in the story of God in the world is only for the proper, the pious, the polite, the morally upright, the thoroughly sorted out people who don’t have problem families or complex histories, people who don’t come from broken homes or haven’t been broken by sibling rivalry or by parents who played favourites with their offspring.
If God ruled that lot out there’d be none of us left to take part in the story!
The story of God coming into the world is, to labour the point: the story of God coming into the world just how it is: with all its mess, with all it’s mixed up, mad, odd, difficult, dodgy and sometimes well meaning people.
By the end of the list we have arrived at Joseph and, fair enough, Joseph, whilst NOT the father of Jesus, was still a was a good man who did the decent thing. He honourably protected Mary instead of ducking out when he found out that she was pregnant. He placed his faith in what God told him, he trusted and he acted in obedience.
That’s all God asks.
So if you ever feel like you might want to exclude yourself from playing your part in God’s kingdom, don’t give up hope, don’t give up on yourself and don’t think that God will ever give up on you. There’s a place for you in the story whatever your inherited hang ups or familial disadvantages.
There’s a reason God ‘adopts’ us – it’s a great way of starting over. Knowing yourself to be a loved child of God is the only family tree you’ll ever need. Trusting in that love enough to live lovingly in the world puts you right in the middle of God’s story.