Maybe the Biblical Value of Mercy is the Only One that Matters

When we read Matthew’s account of Jesus’s birth, the only sense of biblical values that come through to me are the breaking of customs and traditions, even laws, in favor of mercy and grace.

Matthew begins with the genealogy, then tells us about Joseph and skips to the Magi.

Every year at this time, we’re reminded about what a great guy Joseph was because he had the right, under Jewish (biblical) law to have Mary stoned for being pregnant. It was not only his right, but it was an expectation. There was no tolerance for unwanted pregnancies. A woman might survive the stoning, but do you think the baby would? Wrapped up in the Christmas story we hear every year, is the custom of murdering unmarried women and their unborn babies.

Joseph was a great guy because he set aside the law and extended grace to Mary.

In the genealogy that Matthew provides, which is primarily intended to demonstrate that Jesus comes from the line of David, Matthew includes four women who were part of the larger story, a story not about law but about grace: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and “Uriah’s wife.” 

Tamar’s story is odd and by itself is one of those “meanwhile back in Canaan… here’s what’s going on that seems completely irrelevant to the main plot” kind of stories.

So, sometime after Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, his brother Judah’s son died leaving behind a widow named Tamar. As was the custom, she was then passed down to the next brother (gotta love “biblical marriage”!). Then he died, because he didn’t completely follow the rules. Like completely. (The Bible is not a children’s story)

Judah didn’t like all this and thought Tamar was cursed, so he sent her back to her father’s house instead of following the rules and giving her to his third son (who was still too young, but then he didn’t go get Tamar when he was old enough). Well, Tamar didn’t think that was right, so she pretended to be a prostitute and slept with Judah and got pregnant. Judah took her into his household, and she gave birth to twins, one of which was the ancestor of Jesus, or Joseph anyway. 

Then there’s Rahab. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who helped the Israelites because of this, she was extended mercy and ended up marrying into the tribe and is an ancestor in the line of Jesus, too.

Ruth was a Moabite woman who married a Jew. He died, but she stayed with her mother-in-law and ended up marrying Boaz, who was obliged to her because of the same rules that applied to Tamar. Ruth, a foreigner, was welcomed into the family and was the great grandmother of David. 

The same David, who thought Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba) was beautiful when he watched her bathing from his rooftop and summoned her to him. She got pregnant while Uriah was off fighting in the war. To avoid scandal, David brought Uriah home to be his wife, but Uriah refused to sleep with her while his comrades were denied such pleasures. So, David had him sent to the front lines, ensuring he would be killed.

David took Bathsheba as a wife and she had the baby, who died as punishment for David’s sins. But God had mercy on them, and they had another son, Solomon, who would become king and an ancestor of the Messiah.

Matthew intentionally pointed us back to these women so that would understand the line of the Messiah was not perfect, it was impure.

This is the story of how God came into the world, not to condemn the world but to demonstrate what it means to extend God’s grace and mercy to the world.

Read: Matthew 1:1- 2:18 & 9:11-13

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13)

Change the description to: Altar of women by Sieger Koder in St. Stephen`s church in Wasseralfingen, Germany

Photo 177137401 / Women © Zatletic | Dreamstime.com

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