01 Dec 2015
Thanks to our Friends in the Student Christian Movement for publicising an Advent Bible Study by Corrymeela Community Leader Pádraig Ó Tuama.
God of life
Who became part of a family tree
A tree of courage, story and survival.
May we find courage and life in all of our families,
In all of our stories
In all of our survivals
We ask this because we too, have stories.
We ask this in the name of Jesus and in the name of his many grandmothers.
Matthew’s genealogy names five women.
Tamar was a widow whose father–in–law wouldn’t provide her with another son of his, as was the custom. Undaunted, she dressed up as a prostitute and, in disguise, seduced him and became pregnant. When he heard the news, he called out “Bring. Burn.” She nonchalantly produced the signet, cord and staff which she’d taken and shamed him into responsibility. She’s one of the grandmothers of Jesus.
Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. The exiles from Egypt sent spies to this city they wanted to conquer, and the first thing they did was to visit Rahab’s boudoir. Rahab said she’d hide the spies in exchange for refuge after the conquest. She survived. Her family survived. She’s one of the grandmothers of Jesus.
And there’s Ruth. She followed her mother–in–law to a land where she was a foreigner and invoked an ancient legal covenant saying “Where you go, I will go.” Two single women in a time hostile to them. Naomi decided to set Ruth up – so she gave Ruth some advice about a certain man. She said “Go to where he sleeps during harvest and lift up his blanket, and uncover his ‘foot’ and, umm, use your imagination.” Ruth is one of the grandmothers of Jesus.
Bathsheeba was summoned to the home of the king. She became pregnant and the king had her husband, Uriah, killed. She was taken as the latest wife of the king, and as a punishment for all of this, the child’s life was taken. She is a woman whose home, husband and child have been taken away, and very few words are given to her. When she had another son, Solomon, she decided that even though he wasn’t technically in line for being the next king, that technicalities didn’t matter a damn. She, a political scientist, arranged that her inheritance would be the kingdom. She’s one of the grandmothers of Jesus.
And then another woman – probably little older than 14. She, pregnant, was about to be divorced by her fiancé. The text says that he was going to divorce her privately so as not to humiliate her, but that only makes me think that a man wrote the text. Humiliation was already her lot, and presumably would have been more her lot no matter how private a divorce was. She’s the mother of Jesus.
Jesus was born into a great line of fearless matriarchs.
The stories of these women, the great grannies of Jesus, tell us that there have always been structures that seek to embed shame in the stories of our lives. There have always been ways in which we, as people, have oppressed others we do not understand. The stories of the grannies of Jesus tell us that God is always on the side of those on the edge of society. There we meet God who is the one who welcomes, and also asks us to welcome God. There we are both host and guest – we are made welcome, and we are asked to be welcoming – of our own stories, of the stories of others, of the lives of God. There we are welcomed into the great imagination, the one that bids every part of us welcome, that which is expected, that which is unexpected, that which we must change, that which we must not try to change, that which will change us, resist as we might. We are welcomed because we matter. We are made family in the great story of God. We are welcomed by the One whose name is welcome.
With which of these extraordinary women would you want to have a conversation? What would you want to ask?
What, for you, is the effect of naming women of such strength in Jesus’ genealogy?
Matthew uses this as the opening lines of the story of Jesus. If you were to begin telling the story of Jesus, where would you begin? Why?
Note the way in which Matthew has the generations split up into three generations of 14 – which is also six generations of seven. What does this imply to you?
God of Life,
You do not reject the salty lives of the ancestors of Jesus. You honour them.
May we honour all lives, including our own.
Help us to see our own survivals and circumstances with eyes of dignity, not despair.
We ask this because you are the one
Who enters into life with all.