This year for Advent, we’re working our way through the Genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1. As any good Jewish person would, Matthew begins his story of Jesus with Jesus’ pedigree. He wants you to know what kind of family Jesus comes from.
That’s a pretty normal thing to do, right? When you meet a new person, you want to know some of their story, some of where they come from. Especially for leaders, we want to know about their families. These days, everyone’s always digging for skeletons in the closets. The embarassing family secretes everyone keeps. The weird relatives who get sat in the living room instead of at the big dining room table. We don’t usually lead with those relatives. We keep them hidden as long as possible. And that was certainly as true in Jesus’ day as it is for us now.
Which is what makes Jesus’ family tree here in Matthew all that much more odd. Because Matthew includes five women in the genealogy – something no one did back then. But even more interesting is the women he chose to include. They’re not the heroes of the Old Testament. Their stories are embarassing. They’re awkward to read (as everyone who was here last week already knows). It seems like Matthew intentionally led with the skeletons in Jesus’ closet.
Which is, of course, exactly what he did. Because by leading with these stories, Matthew is sending a clear message about exactly what kind of Savior Jesus is. He’s not a squeaky clean savior. Not a spit-and-polish Lord. Jesus is the kind of Messiah that gets down in our Mess. Let’s read the genealogy through this week’s star:
“This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar). Perez was the father of Hezron. Hezron was the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon. Nahshon was the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). ” Matthew 1:1-5 (NLT)
Rahab. The second woman Matthew mentions in the genealogy. Who is Rahab? Well, her story is told back in the book of Joshua. Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, which was the Promised Land. Before they cross into Canaan, Joshua sends two spies in to scope out the situation, and that’s when we meet Rahab.
” Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night. ” Joshua 2:1 (NLT)
Wait, what?! Rahab is a prostitute?! Surprising, to say the least. It sort of makes you want to flip pages in your Bible, to say, “Are you sure we got the right Rahab? Surely there’s got to be another Rahab in here somewhere!” Well, the only other Rahab in the bible is a giant mythical sea creature – imagine the Loch Ness Monster on steroids and HGH (LNMGH?). So given the choice between the two, it seems that this Rahab here is our woman.
Jesus has a prostitute in his family line?! That’s shocking. Can you imagine if some reporter figured out that one of the Republican Presidential candidates had a mother who was a prostitute? It’d be shameful. It’d be embarrassing. And so too here. It’s shocking, even offensive that Matthew would include Rahab in Jesus’ family tree.
It says a lot about the state of the contemporary Church that we are so bothered by this sort of story. Most often these days, Church is a place you clean yourself up to go to. And even though we’ve mostly gotten away from having to wear “Sunday Best” to go to Church, we haven’t let that shift penetrate to our souls. Church is a place you don’t show weakness. You certainly don’t talk open about the sin in your life. Morally speaking, we clean ourselves up. And that’s not only a perception we have inside these walls. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking with someone who finds out I’m a pastor and they say, “Oh, I haven’t been to church in years. I’m sure if I came now the building would burn down around me” or some similar sentiment.
We have created a Church culture that says, Get your act together, then come check us out.
That’s why the story of Rahab is so awesome. Because she was a prostitute. Wow. Her story reminds what the Gospel really looks like. What Grace really looks like. Rahab’s story reminds us of who we are, and what the Church can and should be.