Jesus Came from a Dysfunctional Family
Jesus Came from a Dysfunctional Family
At Christmastime, when we read the story of Jesus’ birth, we often run across the family tree of Jesus. It’s fascinating, especially in Matthew’s gospel. There are so many stories about his dysfunctional family that shouldn’t be there.
If Matthew had written the family history of Jesus like everyone else wrote genealogies in those days, he would have included only the highlights. Kind of like when you write your resume, and you conveniently leave out the job you got fired from, or the school you flunked out of. You only put the highlights in there.
It’s the same with family histories. If you ask about my family history, I’ll tell you all about my great-uncle Gerhard Dirks. He escaped from Nazi Germany during World War 2, and then he came to America and started working for IBM. He invented the first disk drive, and many other technologies that made the PC possible. People called him the father of the modern computer. If it weren’t for Gerhard Dirks, we wouldn’t have MacBooks, or iPhones, or Androids. They wrote a book about him, called The Dirks Escape.
I’ll tell you all about Uncle Gerhard. What I won’t tell you about are all the criminals, con-artists, and liars in my family tree. There are plenty of them, but I’ll conveniently leave all those guys out.
Unlike the rest of us, Matthew doesn’t shy away from Jesus’ sordid origins. He lists all the wicked kings in the family tree, like Rehoboam, Abijah, Asaph, and Jechoniah. Then there are the women. Nobody else put women in their geneaology in those days, but Matthew makes a point to include them.
Starting with Tamar, the wife of Judah’s son Er. When Er died, Tamar became a childless widow. In that culture, that was the worst position to be in. No one else wanted to marry her, and she had no kids to take care of her. So she decided to dress like a prostitute, and wait by the road where her father-in-law Judah was traveling He didn’t know who she was, because she was wearing a veil. She seduced him and slept with him, and they ended up with twins: Perez and Zerah.
Tamar isn’t the only prostitute in the family tree: Rahab is also prominently mentioned. Then there’s Ruth. She was also a Gentile from the tribe of Moab who convinced an Israelite man to marry her. According to the Law of Moses, Israelites weren’t supposed to marry Moabites.
Then Matthew mentions the “wife of Uriah.” That’s a little strange. Did Matthew forget her name? Uriah was one of David‘s best friends. He helped David escape and hide when King Saul was trying to hunt him down and kill him. Uriah always had his back. When David went to war, Uriah was the first one on the front lines.
And what did David do while Uriah was out on the front lines? Stole his wife. Bathsheba. David stalked her while she was taking a bath on her roof, and he sent his guards to go bring her up to his private room. Today, we would call that sexual assault. We’ve heard many similar stories over the last month. We would have to put David in the same category of all the guys who have been exposed over the last few months as predators. And if that’s not bad enough, when Bathsheba got pregnant, David had his buddy Uriah killed! So he wasn’t just a predator, he was a murderer.
Matthew didn’t have to remind us of that whole messy story, but he did. Anybody else writing this genealogy would have left out all these Moabites, prostitutes, and predators, but Matthew had a point to make: Jesus came to show God’s grace to everyone. Righteous and unrighteous. Men and women. Jews and Gentiles.
Jesus came to identify with everyone and bless everyone. He descended from prostitutes and predators. Murderers and evil kings. Which is really good news for us. Because if that’s the kind of dysfunctional family Jesus had? He can probably understand the kind of dysfunctional family I have.
Jesus came for dysfunctional people like us. He came from the dregs of society, so he can handle whatever we throw at him. As Paul says in Romans 5, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” That’s what the birth of Jesus showed us.
As one theologian said it: There’s always more grace in God than there is sin in us.