Gospel Reflections

Feast of the Nativity Vigil

Matthew 1:1-25

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Sharon McMillan

Published: December 24, 2019

Matthew’s Surprising Women

Matthew begins his Gospel with the words “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” He unfolds “the story of the origins” of Jesus Christ who is Son of David and Son of God as well as Son of Mary. Matthew presents Jesus’ extended human family stretching all the way back to Abraham and Sarah. The three sets of 14 generations offer some numbing repetition, but don’t miss the “surprising women” interspersed throughout the lists of men. The Gospel insists that the unique gifts of women in often startling and unexpected ways brought about the coming of the Messiah.

As Sulpician biblical scholar, Raymond E. Brown, writes in The Coming Christ in Advent, Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus proclaims two great truths of our faith: the good God takes the initiative in saving the human family, and the good God chooses the instruments by which this liberation happens. God’s goodness is unfailing – and unpredictable!

Who are the surprising women in this genealogy? We first meet Tamar who as a Canaanite woman is already an outsider. When Judah, her father-in-law, failed to fulfill the requirements of God’s law for her, her practical wisdom and ingenuity found a way so that the child she bore carried the promise of the Messiah forward. She was the one loyal to the Law, not the patriarch Judah.

Rahab is another Canaanite woman who risked her own life to protect Jewish men caught behind enemy lines. And Ruth, a Moabite foreigner, whom we know from her loving fidelity to her Jewish mother-in-law, found a way to ensure that the Hebrew family line continued. She is the grandmother of the great king, David.

The last Old Testament figure that Matthew weaves into his list is Bathsheba whose husband David kills in order to marry her. Through her tenacity, her son Solomon succeeds David on the throne. The fact that these four faithful and enterprising women were foreigners happily confirmed for Matthew’s many Gentile listeners (and readers) that God’s Spirit was powerfully at work outside the Jewish world too.

Since each of these women had something extraordinary in their marital situations that often drew the scorn of others, it was no surprise that the last woman in the list should share that situation too. Mary joins the women whose heroic initiative brings God’s surprising plan of salvation to birth. The Gospel of the 4th Sunday of Advent, Matthew’s Annunciation to Joseph, reveals that Mary is the instrument whose “yes” makes possible the incarnation of Jesus, Emmanuel and Messiah. She is the first and most faithful disciple; she is the servant of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew’s point is that the good God who wrote “the beginning of the story of Jesus Christ” with crooked lines, also writes the on-going story of Jesus Christ in 2019 with lines that include our own lives and our own witness. God embraces the great figures as well as some surprising ones, the unknowns, the sinners, the broken, the doubters as well as those with great hearts and optimistic spirits. This is our God’s on-going story of salvation by surprising grace where all are welcome, where the love in every heart contributes to God’s plan.

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