“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…”
~ Matthew 1:1
Sometimes people decide they’re going to read through the New Testament in order to grow spiritually. So they turn to Matthew because it’s at the beginning of the New Testament and, alas, never make it past the first seventeen verses. This guy begat that guy, and whosit begat somebody else, and what’s-his-name fathered so-and-so. Just dreadful.
As every great storyteller knows, the beginning’s got to be great. He or she has to have us from Hello. Had John Grisham begun The Firm twenty years ago with a three-page genealogy, he might still be practicing law in Mississippi. No gifted writer starts by blathering on about who begat whom. It’s a lucky break for Matthew that the Jewish Christians to whom he was writing were maybe the only people on the planet who weren’t bored by the “begats.” After all, this was their story.
There are two things I particularly love about the lineage of Jesus.
First, the surprising variety. There are all sorts of folk, both pious and problematic, dangling from the branches of this family tree and Matthew doesn’t try to cover them up or pretty them up, God bless him. As family trees go, Jesus definitely has a Charlie Browner on his hands. This is something of a relief to me since my own family has its share, not only of humble, salt-of-the-earth types, but also bootleggers and jail-dwellers and a smattering of moonshiners. No problemo. Jesus’ family is a fixer-upper, too.
The other genealogical jewel here, I believe, shines best in the names of the women on this list. Sure, there are plenty whose names should have been included but weren’t. Conversation for another day. But four of the five who do make the cut all have something surprising in common:
Not one of them is Jewish.
You would assume to see a lineup of pure-blooded Hebrew matriarchal all-stars in this genealogy. But nope—turns out Jesus wants everybody on his family tree: Jews, Hittites, Moabites and Canaanites. Also Postmodern-ites, Democrat-ites and Republican-ites, not to mention seducers and murderers and schemers and well, just everybody.
Ultimately what this boring list of names stands for is the beautiful news that none of us really belongs but God loves us just the same. Not one of us qualifies for a spot on this tree but God welcomes sinners like you and me anyhow. It’s not about pedigree—it’s about mercy.
What do you know, maybe the boring thing’s not so boring after all.
This devotional originally appeared at http://www.nextsunday.com. NextSunday Resources, an imprint of Smyth & Helwys Publishing Inc., is a free press focusing on “quality Bible study and church resources that celebrate the intelligence of learners, the devotion of teachers, and the mission of churches everywhere.”