Tracing our Roots

Pastor Carolyn Jenkins

If you ever considered writing a biography for someone, where would you start? Perhaps you’d tell when you first met the esteemed person…or when that person was born…or maybe even tell of his ancestors. You could even get Henry Louis Gates on the television show “Tracing Your roots” to highlight the person you have chosen!

Interestingly, each writer of a New Testament gospel began at a different point:  Mark began his gospel with Jesus as an adult interacting with his cousin, John the Baptist.  Luke begins with the birth of Jesus being foretold and goes on to give detail about the birth and a little of his childhood. Later in his gospel, he even gives a genealogy of Jesus starting from Joseph and going backwards to Adam.  John begins with “In the beginning” just like Genesis; then proceeds to symbolically discuss Jesus being the Light of the World. No details of his birth are given at all.  But Matthew begins his gospel the way a Jewish scholar would love: a genealogy of Jesus that goes back 42 generations to Abraham!  

The names of these ancestors of Jesus are mainly unpronounceable to most of us in our culture, but some of the names are easy to recognize for their part in Biblical history—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David—these we know. Looking at the list, there are murderers, deceivers, thieves, polygamists, harlots, just to name a few. Many were committed to following Jehovah God; others had wandering eyes to other gods. Yet all of them are mentioned in this ancestry list.

In a highly patriarchal tradition, there are five women who made the list! Most unusual from this time period. And yet we find Tamar (Gen. 38), Rahab (Joshua 2), Ruth (from book of Ruth), Uriah’s wife--Bathsheba (who became another wife of David in II Samuel chapters, 11-12) and then Mary, the mother of Jesus. Tamar had awful family situations; Rahab was a prostitute who is also listed in the roll call of the saints in Hebrews 11. Ruth is a widow who becomes a refugee in her deceased husband’s homeland; Bathsheba’s husband is killed because of a tryst with King David - Oh, my! Sounds like a bad soap opera!

And yet, God chose this line of Abraham through Judah to Mary and Joseph to become the family where Jesus would grow up. Both Mary and Joseph seem to be true and honest followers of God; this was the family to nurture Jesus.  Matthew wrote this gospel to introduce Jesus as the Messiah promised long ago. Thus, beginning with a well-known genealogy was a great start. And throughout the book, Matthew throws in stories and words that would tickle the ears of Jewish scholars so they could hear truth. Most of us are not Jewish scholars and many of his references are lost on our 21st century acculturated brains. But there is no denying that each of us has a past, a family, or even a known great, great, great, grandfather. And yet, each of us must decide for ourselves if we will be followers of Jesus or if we will ignore his claims on our lives. Even if great-grandfather was a minister, we still must make an independent commitment to Christ.

My favorite part of this first chapter of Matthew is that it declares that regardless of your background, your heritage, your lack of prestige, your family with no-coat-of-arms shield to post, OR, if you can trace your roots back to King Louis of France, God will use those who are willing to be a part of changing the world, of helping the Kingdom of God come again!

That’s what Advent is about, after all: celebrating the first coming of Jesus and anticipating the second coming of Jesus. I’m praying for you to find your place in the celebration and the anticipation of the Kingdom of God on this earth.

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