Scandalous Grandmothers—11 December 2022

Pastor Adrianne Meier
11 December 2022
Saint Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Indiana

Scandalous Grandmothers

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A genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of Miriam, the daughter of Anna:

Sarah was the mother of Isaac,
And Rebekah was the mother of Jacob,
Leah was the mother of Judah,
Tamar was the mother of Perez.

The names of the mothers of Hezron, Ram, Amminadab, 
Nahshon and Salmon have been lost.

Rahab was the mother of Boaz,
and Ruth was the mother of Obed.
Obed’s wife, whose name is unknown, bore Jesse.
The wife of Jesse was the mother of David.

Bathsheba was the mother of Solomon,

Naamah, the Ammonite, was the mother of Rehoboam.
Maacah was the mother of Abijam and the grandmother of Asa.
Azubah was the mother of Jehoshaphat.
The name of Jehoram’s mother is unknown.

Athaliah was the mother of Ahaziah,
Zibiah of Beersheba, the mother of Joash.
Jecoliah of Jerusalem bore Uzziah,
Jerusha bore Jotham; 
Ahaz’s mother is unknown.

Abi was the mother of Hezekiah,
Hephzibah was the mother of Manasseh,
Meshullemeth was the mother of Amon,
Jedidah was the mother of Josiah.

Zebidah was the mother of Jehoiakim,
Nehushta was the mother of Jehoiachin,
Hamutal was the mother of Zedekiah.

Then deportation to Babylon took place.

After the deportation to Babylon
the names of the mothers go unrecorded.
These are their sons:

Jechoniah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel,
Abiud, Eliakim, Azor and Zadok,
Achim, Eliud, Eleazar,
Matthew, Jacob and Joseph, the husband of


Of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.

The sum of generations is therefore: 
fourteen from Sarah to David’s mother;
fourteen from Bathsheba to the Babylonian deportation; and 
fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Miriam, the mother of Christ.

Genealogy compiled by Ann Patrick Ware

“Mary, Did You Know?”  At the end of the day, this is one of my least favorite Christmas songs.  Mostly because it is so slow and I’m likely hyped up on hot cocoa and sugar cookies.  (I am sorry if you do.  It seems like one of those songs that you either love it or you hate it.) The questions are rhetorical and, I think, meant to reflect not just the wonder of the Christ Child, but the fullness of his life and the faithfulness of Mary.  Nevertheless it is somewhat fun to imagine Mary, exhausted mother, responding to each rhetorical question, “Mary, did you know?” with a bored and perfunctory “Yes.”  Equally fun to image her response to the little drummer boy playing his best for the finally asleep infant, but I digress.  The truth is, of course, that Mary did know—at least in Luke’s gospel.  God’s intention to enter the world in Mary’s infant child in order to love and save the world was fully revealed to her and through her faithfulness.  And what Mary knew or didn’t know—what any of us know and don’t know—is besides the point.  Mary, and many of her own ancestors, were ordinary faithful folks who held to a hope that believed God is redeeming the world, and their actions invite us into the same, active faith.

The list of Jesus’s foremothers is long and varied—it includes the righteous and the unrighteous, the pious and the scandalous, the long-suffering and the short-lived, the noteworthy and the forgotten.  It includes those whose every breath was a prayer and those whose doubts could fill volumes.  Even though it includes kings and judges, men of power, when we remember the women, alongside the scoundrels and the exiled, we see that the list skews toward the ordinary. And through them all, as with us, God redeems the world.

I want you to know that I debated for quite some time about what translation of Matthew 1 to proclaim in our worship today.  Faithfulness to the scriptures is important to Lutherans.  As Protestants, we believe in faith alone, grace alone, and Scripture alone, and we generally live out the principle of Scripture alone through increasingly accurate translations from the most accurate versions of the original texts available.  And yet, the opportunity to read this translation, the genealogy of Jesus in the same order as Matthew’s text, but the relationships translated through the mothers, well, I hope you found it as moving as I did.  But I also debated because Matthew’s genealogy is unique because it includes five women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah, and Mary.

Tamar was the daughter-in-law of one of Jacob’s twelve sons, Judah.  Tamar was childless when her husband, Judah’s oldest son, died.  In the tradition of Levirate marriage, Judah gave his next son to redeem Tamar, but he, too died.  Judah had another son to give in marriage to Tamar—and should have—but he didn’t.  So, one day, when Tamar knew Judah would be traveling, she dressed like a harlot and lured Judah into her tent.  She kept Judah’s signet ring until the time was right, to prove the parentage of the twins she conceived.  In Levirate marriage, the one who produces an heir with his brother’s widow redeems the widow.  Tamar redeemed herself.

Her story is like Ruth’s, the foreigner who went out and found her own redeemer among her husband’s kin. Claiming the redemption nearly denied her because she was not a Hebrew, but a Moabite.

Of course, if Ruth’s in-laws had recalled their own history, they would remember another Moabite who saved their people: Rahab. Now Rahab was a prostitute, but also a heroine who, at great risk to her own life, harbored Hebrew spies before the fall of Jericho. 

Then there is the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba, whose king called on her, used her body as a plaything, and murdered her husband.  Her name is lost to history, remembered only in the stories of the Kings as the daughter of Sheba, and, here, as the wife of Uriah. This is, I think, no slip of the pen, Uriah refused King David’s offer of feasting and revelry while Uriah’s regiment was at war. Amy Jill-Levine, a great scholar of both New Testament and Jewish studies, notes that David—like Judah, the king of Jericho, and Boaz (who became Ruth’s husband)—all of these kings and powerful people had the opportunity and power to act with righteousness, to be the redemption of women who needed it.  But they did not, and so Uriah—and perhaps Bathsheba—Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, all acted righteously and with an eye toward redemption. They all spoke truth to the power through their faithful action.

And, so, too, does Mary, whose son is conceived out of wedlock, will be raised in Egypt, and return to redeem the whole world. Mary, and Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, in conceding to God’s will and in the shadow of scandal, acted in hope for their own redemption and the redemption of their people.

Of course, the reality is that, throughout history, women’s lives are always held on the brink of scandal. When maleness is the norm, being female, or, today, non-binary or trans, or to express your gender outside the norm is to justify your existence with every action and careful inaction.  And, in the presence of a toxic masculinity that binds men as much as women, it helps us to remember that these women—this is not extraordinary existence. It is what ordinary lives looks like. These five women courageously conceived and raised their children under the specter of scandal. They hoped that God’s redemption stretched far enough to include their own lives. And in their extraordinarily ordinary lives that trusted God’s abundant mercy enough, to claim what was, by right, theirs. We, too, hope that God’s redemption stretches far enough to include our own lives.

Beloved, what redemption lies before you to be claimed? I have been deeply affected this week.  So many of us are carrying the pain of loss, the fear of the unknown, and so many everyday worries. We may not live our lives under scandal, but we know how hard it is to cling to hope. But that is all the faith asks of us, not to pattern our lives on the extraordinary, but on ordinary lives that claimed hope as their birthright, trusting that the pain, fear, and heartache before them was nothing in the light of God’s redemption.

Jesus’s genealogy includes kings, powerful men who held the future of the people, a reality few of us see for ourselves.  But it also includes folks who might look an awful lot like us. It includes people of questionable morals, and those who tried hard and failed, and people who tarnished their family’s good name.  It includes doubters and faithless folks and some really dangerous criminals, to be frank.  It includes the scandalous and the scandalized, victims and victimizers.  Mostly—and notably—it includes folks who simply did not give up on believing that God was acting in their lives.  Folks who saw and claimed their redemption, and who, in hope, staked their grandchildren’s grandchildren’s future on that redemption. It includes people just like you and me, who held fast to the hope that God’s redemption stretches to our own ordinary lives, who lived in the tension of faith and doubt, hope and despair, risk and safety. And trust that God is still redeeming our world.