This post is part of a Friday mini-series, looking at the 5 women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel. You can read Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, Part Four here, and Part Five here.
At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel there is a long genealogy of Jesus. There is also a genealogy in Luke’s Gospel, but the special thing about Matthew’s (compared to Luke’s, and every other genealogy of the time, and the rest of scripture) is his inclusion of five women.
Women didn’t usually get a mention in those kind of lists, because they weren’t considered important enough to warrant it, so it’s pretty significant that they’re featured there. But, as well as that, these women are not the kind of ladies that a good First Century Jewish chap would necessarily want to be associated with, never mind a good Jewish chap who’s claiming to be the Chosen One.
They’re unexpected ladies to feature in such an esteemed list, but then, Jesus is a pretty unexpected Saviour too.
The last of the five is Mary.
“…and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.“
What is there to write about Mary?
It’s fair to say that she is far and away the most famous of all the five. If people only know one Bible story, the one that they’re going to know is the Christmas story. Sweet carols, and picturesque stable-scenes on mass-produced cards all portraying history’s most famous virgin.
As a six year old I was given the great honour of playing the part of the mother of Jesus in my infant school nativity play – a small child with no front teeth, swathed in blue and uttering my one and only line: “Behold, I am the Lord’s servant.” A familiar scene, yes?
However, just because Mary’s famous doesn’t mean we actually know an awful lot about her. In some circles, of course, she’s seen as a semi-divine being herself: perfect, pure, and perpetually virginal. In other circles, in an effort to get away from that first view, she’s painted in an altogether less-flattering light, with folks hunting for any and every flaw and dragging them into the spotlight.
So, what are we to do with her, and how does she round off this series of ours?
Although we might have asked why Matthew included the other four names in his genealogy, their stories filled with scandal as they are, the same question seems a little redundant when it comes to Mary. Why is she included in the list? Well, she’s Jesus’ mother, isn’t she? He couldn’t have very well left her out.
That is true, of course, but I think there’s a little more to say about her inclusion in the list than just the fact that she’s biologically involved. She’s not just chosen to be Jesus’ Ma because she’s an obedient virgin, betrothed to a chap from the tribe of Judah. Let’s have a look at her story, shall we?
The major focus on Mary actually comes in Luke’s gospel – you can read the story for yourself in Luke 1 & 2.
About a 1000 years have passed between the story of Bathsheba and this story of Mary. The nation of Israel have seen times of great prosperity under King Solomon; division of the kingdom; wars and prolific idol worship; invasions of foreign armies; exile under the Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Medes and Persians; restoration to the land; and puppet kings and continued rule by foreign super-powers. Back during David’s time God promised a future king, a descendant of David, who’s throne and kingdom would last forever, but it’s a thousand years later and people are still waiting. And, more than that, for the last four hundred years there have been no prophets, no signs, no words from the Lord.
They’ve been waiting for the promised King, and the day has arrived. But rather than an armour-clad warrior, God sends a baby; and rather than a pampered Prince, born in luxury, God sends this baby to a poor, weak, vulnerable teenager, in a rubbish, backwater town in Israel.
Mary was young. We don’t know how old, but assuming that she was conforming to traditions of the day, we can guess that she was around 12 or 13 when she was betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal meant something similar to engagement (although, with a little more legal-weight), so Mary would still have been living in her parents’ house when the angel appeared to her.
She was poor, and powerless. What an odd person to bear a King.
The town of Nazareth was wee, and highly insignificant. It’s hard to think of an equivalent without knowing your context, but studying this passage in Durham I used a local village as my example. It’s small, and fairly irrelevant, and bears the extremely unfortunate name of ‘Pity Me’. Nothing important happens in Pity Me, no one important lives there, or comes from there, it’s in a remote and poor part of the country, it’s about as far away from the wealth and power of London as it’s possible to get, and when people hear it mentioned they smirk.
That was Nazareth. What an odd place to find a King.
But this is where the angel is sent, to a poor and powerless girl in an insignificant, wee village. Mary meets him and is afraid, and then confused, and then, presumably, afraid again, as she’s informed that she’s been chosen to give birth to the Son of the Most High.
Firstly, as she points out, she is a virgin, so giving birth is pretty unlikely (or, you know, totally impossible). But the angel assures her that ‘nothing is impossible for God’. This isn’t going to be a normal conception, but one accomplished by the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, can you imagine the daunting prospect of being a mother to ‘the Son of the Most High’? When we hear that phrase we think ‘son of God’ in a ‘second person of the Trinity’ sort of way, but, while of course that’s true, for Mary it would have meant something a bit different. The Son of God in Old Testament language was God’s chosen and promised King. See these words from Psalm 2:
‘The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’
Can you imagine being told that you’re going to be that guy’s Ma?
Thirdly, knowing a little of the culture of the day, and the way that women were treated, we can guess at the scandal this unmarried teenage girl was about to find herself in the middle of. Just because this story happened in ‘bible times’ doesn’t mean that Mary’s family and friends and neighbours would have heard the news of her miraculous baby and accepted it at face value. They would have been just as sceptical as us, and Mary would have known that by bearing this child she could look forward to a lifetime of disapproving looks and whispers behind her back at the very least, and, to be honest, the very real possibility of abandonment by her future husband, or the threat of death, as the law required for ‘adultery’.
And yet, in a remarkable display of faith and obedience, she says yes.
Which is wonderful, obviously, but I don’t think Matthew and Luke include these stories in their accounts as an example of faithful obedience. I reckon they do it for a much better reason than that.
Not just since David, but all the way back to Abraham, and in fact, not just since Abraham, but all the way back to Adam, people have been waiting for the fulfillment of a promise:
A promised descendant of Eve, who will bruise the head of the serpent.
A promised descendant of Abraham, through whom all families on earth will be blessed.
A promised descendant of Tamar, who can forgive sin, and heal and restore broken lives.
A promised descendant of Rahab, whose sacrifice is big enough to rescue a foreign prostitute.
A promised descendant of Ruth, a kind, obedient husband, who redeems a penniless, barren, foreigner.
A promised descendant of Bathsheba, who, through a moment of utmost shame, scandal and horror, brings ultimate and absolute glorious victory.
And a promised son of Mary, who, is the promised king whose throne and kingdom will have no end, the one who “though in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
They’ve been waiting for a king, and a king is what they get.
Not one who grasps power, or leads a rebellion, but one who comes to weak, vulnerable girl, in a poor, unimpressive town. He’ll be born in a shabby, dirty stable, lead a group of weak, uneducated followers, be shunned by the rich and powerful, hang out with the rejects of society, and die a cruel and shameful death.
And though it appears utterly foolish, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
This is King Jesus’ great victory. Death can’t hold him. And that death and life-again announce in the loudest possible way, that THIS IS IT.
Debt paid, sins forgiven, promises fulfilled, disobedient sons welcomed home, adulterous wives wooed back, foreigners made family.
In summary: the end.