Four ForeMothers: A Transformational Parable – Matthew 1:1-17

Reading:                    Matthew 1:1-17

This is the family record of Jesus the Christ, descendant of David, descendant of Abraham; Abraham begot Isaac; Isaac begot Jacob; Jacob begot Judah and his sisters and brothers; Tamar and Judah begot Perez and Zerah; Perez begot Hezron; Hezron begon Ram; Ram begot Amminadab; Amminadab begot Nahshon; Nahshon begot Salmon;  Rahab and Salmon begot Boaz;  Ruth and Boaz begot Obed; Obed begot Jesse; and Jesse begot David, the ruler. Bathsheba—who had been the wife of Uriah—and David begot Solomon; Solomon begot Rehoboam; Rehoboam begot Abijah; Abijah begot Asa; Asa begot Jehoshaphat; Jehoshaphat begot Joram; Joram begot Uzziah; Uzziah begot Jotham; Jotham begot Ahaz; Ahaz begot Hezekiah; Hezekiah begot Manasseh; Manasseh begot Amon; Amon begot Josiah; Josiah begot Jeconiah and his sisters and brothers at the time of the Babylonian captivity. After the Babylonian captivity, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel; Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel; Zerubbabel begot Abiud; Abiud begot Eliakim; Eliakim begot Azor; Azor begot Zadok; Zadok begot Achim; Achim begot Eliud; Eliud begot Eleazar; Eleazar begot Mattan; Mattan begot Jacob: Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary. And from her Jesus was born. thus there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian captivity, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian captivity to the Messiah.

Reflection:     Transformational Parables Gestating Within:

Wow! That was a whole lot of begetting to get through! Fourteen generations plus fourteen generations, plus fourteen generations plus that makes 42 generations. Now you might just think that the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Matthew has provided us with a genealogy of Jesus. But I really don’t think so. If these first 17 verses are anything to go by the storyteller either doesn’t care very much about providing an accurate record or he is simply a very poor genealogist. The stories in the Hebrew Scriptures provide us with the names from the generations that Matthew left out. Either Matthew missed them by mistake or Matthew didn’t see the value of recording all the names. I suspect these seventeen verses are something more significant than a mere genealogy.

I suspect these seventeen verses are in and of themselves a parable. A parable is a story which communicates meaning. I believe that the first 17 verses of the Gospel according to Matthew is but the first of a series of parables which the storyteller uses to communicate the meaning of Jesus birth.

All too often we ignore the first 17 verses of Matthew, because we see them as little more than a boring recitation of a bunch of names, a genealogy to be gotten through (pardon the pun); a long intro if you will, before the real action begins. If we look closely, we will see the skillful way in which the storyteller prepares us for the scandal of Jesus’ birth. Quite unusually, this ancient genealogy contains the names of four women. There were lots and lots of women in the course of 42 generations, that the storyteller could have mentioned. But the anonymous gospel storyteller who we call Matthew choose to mention only five women. Five very particular women.

The first of the forefathers mentioned is not, surprisingly, Abraham. Our storyteller could have mentioned Abraham’s wife Sarah but instead choose to ignore Sarah, and tell us instead about Isaac, Jacob, and Judah before mentioning the first of the four foremothers. Our storyteller never mentions Sarah, or Rebekah, or Rachel, or Shelah, before he offers up Tamar for our consideration. Our storyteller declines to mention several more of Jesus’ foremothers before offering us Jesus’ foremother Rahab. And you guessed it, our storyteller fails to mention other foremothers before offing us Ruth, and then again Bathsheba.

What meaning is our storyteller trying to convey with this parable designed to prepare us for the story of Jesus birth? Like all good parables we must delve deeply into the stories behind the story, to discover the power of the parable to transform our understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ birth.

            Sung Response:  Prepare the Way of God

           Reading from Genesis 38:6-11

Judah found a spouse named Tamar for Er, his firstborn.  However, Judah’s firstborn Er was corrupt in YAHWEH’s sight, so YAHWEH caused Er’s death. Then Judah told Onan, “You must sleep with your brother’s wife to fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.  You must raise the offspring of your brother.” Onan knew the offspring would not be his, so whenever he would lie with her, he would ejaculate on the ground to avoid begetting an offspring for his dead brother.  But Onan did was bad in YAHWAH’s sight, so YAHWEH took away Onan’s life too.

  Reflection:     Tamar

The mention of the name Tamar to a Jewish audience at the end of the first century, would have had the effect, I believe our storyteller was after. Tamar is a widow, who must sleep with her dead husband’s brother in order to produce a male heir. Tamar is widowed again when her brother-in-law refuses to play along and dumps his seed on the floor so that Tamar will not become pregnant. This story is rarely told on a Sunday morning.

But wait it gets much worse. After losing both her husbands to the wrath of YAHWEH, poor old YAHWEH gets blamed for a great deal in these stories, anyway Tamar finds herself a widow twice over. According to the story Tamar makes what is described as a “shameful exit” and goes back to her Father’s home and tries to pick up the pieces of her life. In the meantime, her Father-in-law Judah’s wife dies and he too becomes a widow. Low and behold in the course of events, Judah has some business do conduct in the village where his daughter-in-law is now living and when Tamar learns that Judah is coming, she sets a trap for him. According to the story, Tamar dresses up like a prostitute and she goes out and sits at the gate of the city. Eye, Eye, wink, wink, nudge, nudge…out by the gate of the city Tamar struts her wares, as it were. Old Judah comes along and likes what he sees and decides to strike a bargain.  For the price of a kid; a goat that is, Judah makes a deal with a woman he believes to be a prostitute. Trouble is, Judah doesn’t have a kid with him. So as collateral, Judah offers his signet ring together with the rope with which he girdles his loins and another piece of clothing.

Tamar held on to these precious items. Judah has relations with Tamar and then goes about his business. After Judah returns home, he sends a servant to deliver the kid to the prostitute. The servant can’t find the prostitute. Furthermore, the people of the town insist that there aren’t any prostitutes in their town. Judah, a man who pays his debts also searches unsuccessfully for the woman. Time passes and Judah hears the rumour that his daughter-in-law is pregnant and he is as the story says, filled with wrath.

He knows Tamar is not married and in his eyes she’s acted unfaithfully. She is an adulteress. As the head of his family Judah takes steps to have Tamar executed. Tamar is dragged out to be burnt at the stake. Just before the fires are lit, Tamar says, “Oh, by the way the person by whom I am expecting this child is the owner of this ring and this rope, and this piece of clothing.”

Judah recognizes the items as his own and publicly repents.  Judah takes Tamar into his harem and she produces twins and one of them is named Parez who our gospel-storyteller lists as one of Jesus’ forefathers. Jesus lineage is traced back to the incestuous relationship of a father-in-law with his daughter-in-law. What do you suppose our gospel storyteller is trying to communicate about the birth of Jesus?

Sung Response:  The Place Where Advent Starts verse 1

A reading from Joshua 2:1-7

Then Joshua ben-Nun secretly sent out two spies from Shittim, ordering them,  “Go, scout out the territory—especially Jericho.” The two spies set off and went to Jericho. There they went to the house of a prostitute named Rahab, where they spent the night. When the word reached the ruler of Jericho that two Israelites had arrived that evening to scout the territory, the ruler sent this message to Rahab: “Bring me the two who are lodging in your house, for they are here to spy on my land.” But Rahab took the two spies and hid them, then told the ruler, “Yes, they did come here, but I did not know where they were from. And after dark, knowing that the gate would be closed soon, they left. I do not know where they went. But as soon as the posse had left, they shut the gate.

Reflection:     Rahab

Rahab also has a reputation as a prostitute. She was an innkeeper in a house of ill-repute; a madame if you will.  She lived in the red-light district of Jericho. When Joshua sent his spies across the Jordan river into Jericho Rahab entertained them. The spies would have been caught if Rahab had not helped them to escape. The spies promised that when Joshua’s army moved into Jericho, they would protect Rahab because of her services. Rahab was instructed to hang a red cloth; a red ribbon in her window so Joshua’s army would know not to kill anyone in her home. Rahab planned to bring all of her family into her home so that they would be spared. Everything goes according to plan and according to the story Rahab marries one of her conquerors.  Jesus lineage is traced back to a collaborator, a woman of ill repute. What do you suppose our gospel storyteller is trying to communicate about the birth of Jesus?

Sung Response:  The Place Where Advent Starts verse 2

Barb:  A Reading from Ruth 3:1-4

One day, Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, it is my duty to ensure your security and fulfillment, and make sure you are provided for. And Boaz, whose workers you have been following, is our closest relative. Tonight he will be winnowing grain on the threshing floor. Wash up and put on perfume and dress in your finest clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor. But do not let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he goes to sleep, watch to see where he lies down. Then go and “uncover his feet” and lie down with him. He will tell you what to do next.”

Reflection:  Ruth

Ruth’s pledge to her mother-in-law Naomi is often read at weddings.  Where you go. I will go. Your people shall be my people. But very few people ever read the third chapter of the Book of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite girl married to a Jewish man. Naomi’s son. In the course of the story, Naomi’s husband and her two sons die. This family consists of a Jewish mother and two Moabite daughter-in-law. These women are vulnerable without any male protectors. One of the Moabite daughters returns to her father’s house. But Ruth clings to Naomi. Together they move back to Naomi’s homeland of Israel. Ruth takes care of Naomi. But even in Israel two widows are vulnerable.

According to the law, Jews were required to leave a portion of their crop in the field so that the poor could glean enough to eat. So, each day Ruth goes out into the fields to glean enough grain to keep herself and Naomi alive.  Eventually, Naomi realizes that the man who owns the fields where Ruth has been gleaning grain is a distant relative of her dead husband. The man’s name is Boaz. According to the law, Boaz could exercise his right to marry the widow of a kinsman. Together, Naomi and Ruth hatch a scheme to seduce Boaz.

In chapter three, the chapter nobody reads in church, it says that Ruth went down to the river and bathed herself until she was wondrously clean and se put on her best dress and se put on all the perfume that she had and she planned to go to the harvest celebration and she planned to seduce Boaz as the wine would be flowing freely. True to plan, Boaz drank so much that he fell asleep. In an old Hollywood movie this is the part where they would fade to black. But not in the Bible, in the bible Ruth “uncovers Boaz’s feet.” In ancient Hebrew the phrase “uncover his feet” is a euphemism; feet are not feet if you get my meaning. Feet are another part of the male anatomy. A part which Ruth uncovered and the drunken Boaz instructed her from there. Jesus lineage is traced back to a seductress.  What do you suppose our gospel storyteller is trying to communicate about the birth of Jesus?

Sung Response:  The Place Where Advent Starts verse 3

A reading from 2 Samuel: 11:1-5

In the spring, that time of the year when rulers go off to war, David sent Joab out along with his officers and troops. They massacred the Ammonites and laid siege to Rabbah. David, however, stayed in Jerusalem. As evening approached, David rose from his couch and strolled about on the flat roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman—a very beautiful woman—bathing. David made inquiries about her and learned that her name was Bathsheba, and that she was the daughter of Eilam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Then David sent messengers to fetch her. She came to him, and he slept with her, at a time when she had been declared ritually clean after her monthly period. The she returned to her house. But she conceived, and sent this message to David: “I am pregnant.”     

Reflection:  Bethsheba

He saw her bathing on the roof. Indeed. King David whose palace was the biggest house in all of Jerusalem went out on to his own rooftop and surveyed the whole land and he was able to look down on the rooftops of all the other houses in Jerusalem. Below him on one of those rooftops was an exquisitely beautiful woman taking a bath and low and behold King David was smitten with her. He watched her bathing on the roof, he watched her and he watched her. King David the peeping Tom is so smitten with this beautiful young woman that he uses the power of his office to summon her. Bathsheba is in no position to turn down the king. One thing leads to another and adultery ensues. But it doesn’t end there. Bathsheba becomes pregnant, and through various machinations King David engineers the death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. When Uriah is killed, David adds Bathsheba to his harem.

This is the story of adultery and murder. Jesus lineage is traced back to a woman who participates in adultery and murder. The stories of Jesus’ four foremothers read like a soap-opera. What do you suppose our gospel storyteller is trying to communicate about the meaning of Jesus’ birth?

Sung response:  The Place Where Advent Starts verse 4

Reading:        Matthew 1:17

Thus there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian captivity, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian Captivity to the Messiah.…the Messiah who was born of Mary….

Reflection:                 Gestating Within

Through the four foremothers, the gospel-storyteller we call Matthew brings us to the mother in whom the hope of the world is gestating. Our storyteller did not have to mention the four foremothers. He could have avoided the scandalous stories that their names conjured in the minds of his audience.  But Matthew insists and so the foremothers of Mary are lined up to communicate to all who hear or read this parabolic overture something of the truth about the nature of DIVINITY.

Every family shares similar histories. Life is complicated. Life is messy. Sex and violence. Sex and exploitation. Sex and vulnerability.

What resolution, what hope does our storyteller offer out of all this begetting? A young woman, who is vulnerable, exploited, and in danger of becoming the victim of violence. More of the same. Something ordinary.

And yet, therein lies the hope of the world. In the ordinary stuff of life there is hope. The DIVINE ONE emerges in the midst of the vulnerable, the exploited, the endangered, the immoral, and the survivors of the worst that life can dish out. The DIVINE ONE is born again and again and again. Therein lies the hope of the world. LOVE is born over and over again, in the likes of you and of me. LOVE gestates within. Let us prepare to give birth to LOVE.




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