Monday, January 29, 2024

Why is Jesus' Ancestry so dysfunctional?

As Christians, we believe that Jesus is God.  This fundamental belief makes it easy for us to accept and follow many things in the Christian tradition, and it includes the many hymns that we hear during Christmas time.  And because we believe that Jesus is God, we also silently have the belief that Jesus’ family tree and bloodline must have been perfect.  However, it was Raymond Brown, the renowned biblical scholar, who said that Jesus’ bloodline was really far from perfect, and we need to reject thoughts that Jesus must have been descended from a line of perfect, scandal-free and bad history.  And this is insightfully true, because there is much in his origins that is rather strikingly jolting, perhaps as shocking as any contemporary church scandal.


Within the genealogy of Jesus, the there are in fact many sinners, liars and schemers, like there are in the lives of many of the canonized saints, honest people, and the heroic lives of the men and women of faith.


In Jesus’ genealogy, there are a number of men and women who were not the stalwarts of the love, charity, faithfulness and purity of Jesus.  To be clear, there was Abraham who unfairly banished Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, who rationalized that God favors some people over others; and then there’s Jacob who stole his brother Esau’s birthright; and of course, David who committed adultery and then had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite, murdered so as to cover up an unwanted pregnancy David created in order to marry her.


And of course, there were the few women named in the genealogy who were remarkable for the wrong reasons.  The gospels don’t mention Sarah, Rebekah or Rachel who were regarded as holy women.  Rather, the following get mentioned – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.    Tamar was a Canaanite woman who seduces her father-in-law so that she can have a child.  Rahab was another Canaanite woman (an outsider) who is in fact a prostitute.  Ruth was another outsider (a Moabitess) and of course, Bathsheba, the woman David commits adultery with who loses her husband when David plans to have him murdered to cover up his secret love affair.


Isn’t it interesting to know that these four named women were  either strange or scandalous, yet they paved the way to give us Jesus.  And it is no accident that these four woman are linked to Mary, Jesus’ mother, since she too found herself in a taboo pregnancy and in a marital situation that was deemed strange and perculiar. 


Whenever I get to read the genealogy of Jesus at Mass, I always tend to glace at the congregation to see if there are any shocked or flabbergasted looks as the names of Jesus’ ancestors are read out.  Without a doubt, there would be quite a few faces that are wide awake, but puzzled whenever some names are mentioned, and it is not because of my bad pronunciation of their names.  They know that some of these names are quite simply taboo to be listed in Jesus’ genealogy.  Quite often, I come to the conclusion that they would rather that Jesus come from a perfect and faultless, and scandal-free bloodline.  Yet, the axiom that “God writes straight with crooked lines” is true, even where Jesus is concerned.  There are some of the names in the list that have nary any specialness or significance.  Jesus’ human blood was a result of a mixture of the great and the small, the holy and the not-so-holy as well.


The hard truth is that we may have very high standards for Christ.  But there’s a downside to this – we may be forgetting that we too, are also responsible to continue the story of Jesus’ incarnation.


Jesus’ genealogy shows that God did not get stopped by the scheming and the scandalous.  God uses the pure and the impure.  This raises our own standards in life for ourselves, because we too, can be usable by God to write his way into the life of this world.  We cannot too easily exclude ourselves from being people who can be effectively used by God to bring his mercy and love into a world that aches and longs for God’s presence in its very existence.  Don’t write ourselves off too easily. 


This gives us so much hope.  None of us is too sinful to be used by God to continue the incarnation of Jesus in the world.  God can use us, simple or dysfunctional that we think we are, to bring the presence of Jesus to the world.  And I believe that this hidden truth is a truism that has not been addressed loudly enough to give everyone hope in this life and it should not be a hidden secret kept because of the fear of embarrassment.  If it is, it will be a shame.