In one of the parishes where I worked, there were two families who were fighting over a property dispute. Both the families were rich and influential. Both tried to get the support of the local church in their favour. So they wrote to the parish council expressing their views and claims. One of these letters was very interesting. To prove that their demand was more genuine, they claimed that their ancestors were baptised by the apostle St Thomas himself.
We are familiar with family trees. People try to prove that they are part of a great family, that their ancestors were rich and powerful (and also generous), well known, etc. But they will mention in the family tree only those who were rich and famous. Most of them certainly would not include any ‘black sheep’ in the tree. We can very well understand this. In a society where dignity is calculated according to ancestry, we should forgive such people.
In the Jewish society of Jesus’ time, family trees were not uncommon. And this is why Mathew gives us a family tree of Jesus at the beginning of his gospel. What is uncommon here is the structure of the tree. In the normal Jewish family trees of that time, we would not find the name of a woman. Natural, considering that women were right at the bottom of the social ladder. A self respecting Jew would begin his day thanking God for not creating him as a woman or a slave. That is why it surprises us that Mathew has included names of four women apart from the name of Mary, mother of Jesus, in the family tree of Jesus.
We could forgive Mathew if these women were of any especially significant social standing. But shockingly, these women are not of any great social status in the Jewish society of the time. In fact all these women have some history which make their social status even lower than that of the ordinary women. The first one Tamar had an incestuous relationship with her father-in-law and brought him a child. The second one Rahab was a prostitute. The third one Ruth, a foreigner. And the fourth one, Bethsaida, is the heroin is the greatest story of treachery in the Old Testament. King David tactfully got her husband and his soldier, Uriah, killed so that he could possess her. All dubious characters, no doubt. But in a way all these are wronged women.
Then why does Mathew include these names in the family tree of Jesus. It looks almost certain that he wanted to give a very clear message. Now, when we look at the life of Jesus, the message becomes very clear. All his life Jesus was bringing down walls of discrimination in the communities. And the process begins right at the time of his birth. Nobody is discriminated against in the family tree of Jesus. On the contrary, the wronged ones find a special place in it. Quite true to the life of Jesus. He always had a special place for the wronged ones in his heart. Remember the kind words to the woman caught in adultery? No accusation, no judgment. Just consolation. In Jesus, the walls of discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity etc are pulled down.
Isn’t it unfortunate that two thousand years after he came and went, we are still caught up with the walls of discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, race, gender etc?
It is said that Mahatma Gandhi was at a time contemplating becoming a Christian. He was so inspired after reading the Bible, especially the sermon on the mount. So he went to attend a church on a Sunday. And at the usherer standing at the entrance of the church told him that the church was reserved for “Whites only” and if he wished he could go to a church for the “Blacks” at the other end of the road. That was the last time Gandhiji entertained any thought of becoming a Christian.
What is the situation in the communities and churches today? Are we still caught up with the pretty divisions on the basis of colour gender? In a world where a great part of humanity was discriminated against, Jesus showed us a great example of going against the current. Can we follow him? Can we relate equally with men and women, people of other cultures, foreigners etc? If we can’t then something vital is missing in our Christian life.
At the end of the family tree, Mathew divides the tree into three parts. This is the spiritual history of Israel. The first part till David is the spring time. This is the time when Israel responded to the call to greatness. From there to the deportation to Babylon is the winter time. This is when Israel fell from grace, did not respond well to God. And the third part is the Autumn. It was the time of hope, new expectations. It was a time of renewal. In our own lives, we will see these three stages. A call to grace, a fall from grace and a going back. Advent is a time for this going back, this renewal. Let us prepare ourselves for this going back to God. Let us renew us by examining our own attitude towards discriminations, exclusions and our faith in Jesus.