Recently I received from my oldest brother a copy of research he has been doing on the ancestry of the Ritchie family. His research is impressive; tracing our history back several centuries. The report includes photographs of select ancestors, inviting me to respond, “Wow! I’m related to him? To her?”
Perhaps you have engaged in research of your family and responded with some “wow” moments.
However, if you are looking for some genuine “wow” moments regarding someone’s ancestry, you may wish to look at the ancestry of Jesus, as found in the gospel of Matthew. The first 17 verses of this gospel offer us “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” While this may not appear an unusual way to begin a gospel, some names included in this “genealogy of Jesus Christ” are names we may not expect to find in the ancestry of the one born as Son of God.
Tamar is one such name we find in this ancestry. True, we may know little about Tamar — for good reason. The Book of Genesis tells us Tamar passed herself off as a prostitute so as to have a child by her father-in-law.
Who would have thought Tamar would be recorded as an ancestor of Jesus? Might it not be better to omit such information if the hope is that persons will believe in Jesus?
Perhaps believing the inclusion of Tamar to be a fluke, we continue reading the ancestry of Jesus until we see the name “Rahab.” We may remember Rahab as something of a heroine. The book of Joshua tells us Rahab hid spies from among God’s people as they scouted the land God had promised them.
We are told Rahab shared the faith of these spies. We are also told about Rahab: She was a prostitute. When we begin to read “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,” is it helpful to know Rahab, the prostitute, is an ancestor of Jesus?
We may have similar questions regarding another name we encounter in these verses. That name is Ruth.
True, we can name no offense against Ruth. She is a virtuous woman, this woman remembered by the Hebrew writing bearing her name. Still, despite any affection we hold for Ruth, we cannot avoid this: Ruth is not of the people of God. She is not of the chosen. Ruth is a foreigner; from the land called “Moab.” There is reason to believe she should not be in this ancestry of Jesus.
As there is reason to believe another person found within this ancestry does not belong. This person is not named, cited simply as “the wife of Uriah.” The wife of Uriah, scripture tells us, is Bathsheba, the Bathsheba with whom King David committed adultery.
Did we know all of them gathered within the history which gives us Jesus?
I remember, as a child, sitting in front of the TV at this time of year, watching some Christmas spectacular featuring Andy Williams and family – yes, the Andy Williams who insists “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” I was entranced by Andy and his picture – perfect family singing beneath beautifully falling snow (I didn’t care that it was fake). Glorious smiles worn by all; not a care in the world. I said to myself: “I wish I was there.”
I wanted to be a part of that, to be in that perfectly choreographed world where everyone smiles and clothing matches and it appears to be the most wonderful time of the year. I said, “That’s a family I want to belong to.”
I was not saying: “This is rehearsed.” I was not thinking: “This may have been filmed in August.” I was not thinking: “This is not reality.” And because it was not real, I could not belong to it.
This is not so with the family of Jesus. Here, according to the Gospel, is family very real.
It is family no stranger to scandal. It is family full of shadow. It is family visited by deceit. It is family where outsiders have intruded, where secrets have been kept.
It is family giving us Jesus.
It is family to which we belong this season. Nothing faked or choreographed about this family, this family ultimately visited by healing and grace as found in the birth of Jesus.
For Jesus is no stranger to life as we know it. In the life of Jesus there is gathered all the brokenness and corruption of life as we know it. In the life of Jesus, the broken is healed, the lost is found, light is shined, and all is made new.
Welcome to the family.
Keith Ritchie is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Martinsville. For further information about the MCCC, call 276-632-6422.