Midrash in the Moment: Doesn’t Jesus’ Genealogy Fall Apart If Joseph Isn’t Really Jesus’ Father?

Jason Micheli —  December 10, 2012 — 2 Comments


photo-1This Sunday for our ‘Questions about Christmas’ sermon series I pulled your questions at random from a bingo tumbler and just answered them off the cuff. As I warned, sometimes off the cuff Jason quickly slips into off color Jason but I think I was mostly clean.

This week I will try to post responses to the questions that didn’t get pulled and also summaries of how I answered some of the other questions.

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One thing you have to remember is that the early church was an oral culture. They were good storytellers and, being good storytellers, they would never begin a Gospel with a list of begats unless there was a good point they wanted their listeners to catch.

The first thing Matthew’s audience would’ve noticed is the fact that this isn’t a traditional Jewish genealogy. You can compare Matthew’s list to the lists in the Old Testament. Jewish genealogies were men’s only clubs. But Matthew’s has women in it.

And not just women. Gentiles. Matthew’s constructs a genealogy of Jews and Gentiles, and the only way Matthew can include Gentiles is through women because all the men in Jesus’ family were Jews. So Matthew works in Ruth and Rahab and Tamar and Bathsheba.

Those women aren’t just Gentiles. Matthew also constructs a genealogy of saints and sinners. Tamar slept with her father-in-law, on ‘accident.’ Ruth seduced Boaz. Bathsheba very likely seduced David. Rahab was a hooker.

So what Matthew’s doing isn’t trying to biologically tie Jesus to Jewish history because that would be impossible. What Matthew’s doing is giving you the overture to his Gospel; he’s hinting at the themes to come.

And one of those themes is the compassion Jesus shows women like Tamar and Rahab, who, incidentally, are the kind of women that most would’ve assumed Jesus’ own mother was.

He’s foreshadowing themes: Jesus’ compassion on sinners and women, Jesus’ ministry to Gentiles and outsiders. This becomes more obvious when you flip to the end of Matthew’s Gospel and see that it closes with Jesus giving his Great Commission to ‘make disciples of all nations…‘ Meaning: Jews and Gentiles.

So the genealogy isn’t about Jesus’ biological make-up; it’s about the make-up of his Kingdom. It’s Matthew’s of telegraphing that Christ will be a different of King.

A couple of other points:

The word genealogy is genesis. In the beginning. Matthew begins his Gospel in the same way the Hebrew Bible begins. This is Matthew’s way of saying that Jesus is the beginning of a new creation.

Another thing, Matthew says ‘from the deportation to Babylon to the birth of the Messiah…’ In other words, Matthew’s suggesting Israel’s exile to Babylon never ended, that even though Israel returned from Babylon, their exile never truly ended until Jesus was born. That’s what makes ‘Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ an Advent song.

Lastly, Matthew’s not trying to give a proper, traditional family tree for Jesus, but if he wanted to he could do that through Joseph. As an adoptive father myself, I have a stake in this point. In the same way my boys have Virginia birth certificates though they were born in Guatemala, according to Jewish law, Jesus becomes Joseph’s legal son the moment Joseph claims him as such, which is what makes Joseph’s leap of faith and participation in the Christmas story so vital.

Jason Micheli

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2 responses to Midrash in the Moment: Doesn’t Jesus’ Genealogy Fall Apart If Joseph Isn’t Really Jesus’ Father?

  1. “Bathsheba very likely seduced David” ….. you sure about that? Because she was bathing where she could be seen by someone standing on a roof? Seems to me David would not have needed encouragement, given his reputation as a womanizer. David’s servants went looking for a beautiful maiden to keep David warm when he was “old and advanced in years” and I doubt very much that they did this without his knowledge and consent. That David “knew not” the maiden Abishag the Shunnamite was probably not for lack of trying. [1 Kings 1:1-4] That’s my reading of those passages. 🙂

    • Well, I’m not saying David wasn’t a dog. That goes without saying.
      I’m just reading it as rather curious that Bathsheba would choose to take bath in the middle of the day within full on view of the King’s lusty gaze. Maybe this disqualifies me as a feminist but I think the most charitable reading is that they’re both implicated. I think Matthew’s implying that very thing too, by the way, in referring to her as Uriah’s wife. Nice little dig before he moves with the rest of the family tree.

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