Rev’d Blake Ramage
Reading for today: Matthew 1: 1-17
Good morning, my name is Blake, and as you can see, I’ve set myself a bit of a challenge here. It would probably be difficult to find a passage in the New Testament that’s more boring than the genealogy of Jesus.
I wanted to speak on the genealogy of Jesus because it’s often a passage we skim through, but I believe it’s essential to understanding the gospels and Jesus’ identity, purpose, and mission. In this long list of names, Matthew has chosen the perfect way to signal early on the kind of Messiah Jesus is going to be. Because while we hear a list of foreign names, the first hearers heard a list of stories.
For many of us, we probably couldn’t name too many of the names or stories in our ancestral line. I wouldn’t be able to name many more than a couple. The only thing I really know about my ancestry is that some people in the family didn’t overly like our surname “Ramage” and so did some digging and found out that it’s of French origin and should be pronounced “Ramáge”. So there’s a group of Ramáges in the country pronouncing our surname in the French way and the rest of us stick with Ramage. But that’s pretty much all I know.
Whereas we know in New Zealand that for Maori, their ancestry, their whakapapa, is of huge significance and importance. And for Maori, reciting their whakapapa is a way of telling you about who they are, it’s them saying, “This is who I am.”
Maori see themselves as a continuation of their ancestors and recalling the story of their people and their land is to give you a sense of their own identity and their mana. It’s memorised and passed down by oral tradition. Even in Maori to ask what is your name, the meaning of the words are, “Who is your name?” Tell me who you are.
This is more the sense that the Jewish people carried and Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience, so this list of names is critical to them. It’s so critical, Matthew has arranged them into a Jewish memorisation technique – arranged into 3 sets of 14 names so the listeners could memorise it and recall it when telling others about Jesus. Of all the passages Matthew could set up for this congregation to memorise, he chooses this one.
As we head into this list of names we see that it’s actually telling a story about God’s faithfulness, because it often reads more like a crime list.
Now, if you were the disciples making this genealogy up, you wouldn’t choose this list of names. For Israel’s holy Messiah, no way. I spent some time going through every name and reading every story for every name. Time in my life I’ll never get back. It really reads like a list of misdeeds than a list of names signaling a Messiah.
We have the evil kings included:
Like Rehoboam, who inherited his father Solomon’s love of luxury and an extensive harem, which in addition to his wife, included 60 concubines. To support his lavish lifestyle he overtaxed the people so that the northern ten tribes revolted and divided the kingdom.
Ahaz, in contrast to his godly father, refused to listen to Isaiah, and brought significant disbelief to Israel, even participating in child sacrifice.
Then we have Manasseh – one of the most wicked kings in the history of Judah, practicing sorcery and child sacrifice – even sacrificing his own son in the fire. He is very evil. But later on in life, he repents, removes the pagan altars, and reinstitutes temple worship.
I could go on and on with the evil kings, there are more, but let me move onto another surprising part of this list: To the original hearers, one of the most surprising aspects of this genealogy would be the inclusion of women – which was an incredibly rare thing to do in a Jewish context. And this genealogy has five.
Tamar: A man named Judah had three sons and gave the eldest to Tamar as a husband. The son died without giving her children and so Judah did the culturally appropriate thing and gave her his second born who avoided giving her children and then died too. Judah didn’t really want to give her his 3rd son but she still didn’t have any children.
Judah’s wife dies and he ends up going on a trip. Tamar hears about this trip so disguises herself as a prostitute using a veil and lures him into sleeping with her. She conceives by Judah after this liaison and has twins and one of those children is part of the lineage of Jesus. I don’t know why people need reality TV, just read the book of Genesis.
Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who hid the Jewish spies.
Ruth is a Moabitess – a Gentile – not Jewish. To the tenth generation a Moabite was not to be admitted to the congregation but here Matthew makes clear that Gentile women, Rahab and Ruth, were in the royal line of Jesus.
Bathsheba had an affair with King David that saw David murder her husband Uriah.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, is a peasant girl.
How can a Messiah come out of all this? Well, what we are seeing is that Jesus in not the kind of Messiah Israel expects. It’s not a list of the best names in their history because Jesus hasn’t come for pure Israel. Jesus is coming for broken Israel, distraught Israel, hurting Israel.
God is weaving all the broken pieces of humanity together and God is saying no matter how far we go, no matter what we do, by God’s hand, all that has gone before will be welded into God’s redemptive plan for the world.
Nothing can stop the force of his love.
Nothing can stop his divine purpose for this world.
Nothing can overwhelm it. His love is too powerful. His grace saturates the whole earth.
So no one is counted out on this; everyone is grafted in. Each one of us is grafted in – no matter what our history, no matter what our story. And look at who Jesus chose to be his disciples – not the best and brightest minds, but insurrectionists, peasant fishermen, and tax collectors.
Scripture is story after story after story of God’s faithfulness to bless this world, despite people’s unfaithfulness. And in the coming of Jesus, God fulfills his promise to Abraham that we heard in Genesis 12:
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;”
And goes on to say,“and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
The whole story of the Old Testament is really about this promise. God called Israel to be a blessing to the nations. That is their mission.
Blessing is not really just forgiveness of sins – it is creational language. God blessed his creation. It means wholeness, life, justice, goodness. This is the promise the Messiah was born to fulfil and that’s the story we are grafted into through Christ.
We are grafted into this story, of the faithful and faithless, the saints and the sinners. We are grafted into God’s own story. God wants everyone in. He wants to use us to fulfil his promise to Abraham, to be the people through whom God will bless the world. And I believe that in being used by God to bless others is where we discover the greatest source of blessing for ourselves as well.
I’ve seen this time and time again during the great privilege I’ve had of serving the church. To pick one example, when I was the Vicar of Holy Trinity Gisborne the congregation prominently consisted of retirees. They were very keen to bless the city of Gisborne but weren’t sure how to go about it. So we undertook a survey of what the congregation enjoyed doing. The top of the list was knitting.
Now Gisborne has a huge amount of poverty and children living in poverty. So we established a partnership with Gisborne Hospital to supply every single newborn baby born at Gisborne Hospital with a knitted bonnet and knitted booties, as a gift to them. Some people in our congregation weren’t knitters so they donated the wool for those that were.
Each beautifully knitted bonnet and set of booties, made with love from our parishioners, was packaged up with a card of blessing to the new mother from the members of our church.
When we first started we had a place to the side of the front door of church for the knitted goods, but then I thought, these are really offerings to God, so I suggested people put them in the offertory bags instead and each week we would receive all these stunning little bonnets and booties for babies and bless them as part of the offering.
It was not only a wonderful little gift of love for each newborn, but was a source of great blessing and encouragement to our congregation – they were being part of blessing Gisborne in a tangible way.
I realised during the last week that this is my 10th year of ordained ministry and I would say the most precious moments, and the most effective ministry I’ve seen, has been intergenerational ministry like that example – different generations blessing each other.
Now, Takapuna is a very different context to Gisborne, but how is God calling St Peter’s to bless the city of Auckland?
In Jesus, we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, and it is through our rich and varied and sometimes troubled lineage that God has brought us to this moment in time, to be the people through whom God’s blessing flows to this world that God loves. We’ve been blessed with a lineage that means we can provide a heritage.