I have very enthusiastically been spruiking Anne Clements’ wonderful book ‘Mothers on the Margin?: The Significance of Women in Matthew’s Genealogy‘ after reading it earlier this year. I also chose to use it as a base for some talks for chapel which, as I was requested, I will be posting here on our blog over the next few weeks, roughly translated from the Swahili.
At the centre of Christianity, the centre of our faith, is a person, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Strong one, the Righteous one, Saviour and King of the world. If you want to understand Christianity, look to Christ. Here in Matthew 1, we are introduced to this King with a genealogy.
In the time of Jesus Christ, the first century, it was normal to introduce a person with the names of their male ancestors, as we see here – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc – but here Jesus is introduced with the names of his grandmothers as well – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah and Mary the mother of Jesus.
These women are not queens or powerful people. Most of them are not even Israelites. They do not have status or power in their society. So why are they included in this introduction to Jesus Christ?
Two reasons. First, God sees those who are forgotten. Though others may consider them inconsequential, God does not. Second, these women were righteous people. We have many things to learn from these women about God’s view of marginalised people, and how to follow God’s way. These women are included here in the genealogy of Jesus to teach us about God and ourselves.
So, when I say ‘marginalised people’, do you understand what I mean? It’s like saying ‘those on the edges’ or ‘the forgotten ones’. I have an example to help us. This is a paper plate. Let us imagine that this paper plate is a picture of a society. Here in the centre of the paper is the king or president or important people, those who have power in society. As you move away from the centre, you leave the place of power. You are not able to influence decisions and others do not care about your opinions. So here, the people on the edges are far from the centre, are forgotten. These are marginalised people who are not visible in their societies. Others do not see them.
Some examples of marginalised people are poor people, women, children, disabled people – all people who do not have status or wealth or a voice in society.
Here at university as university people, we are not the president or members of parliament but we have one big advantage: education. Here in Tanzania, many people do not have the opportunity to go to secondary school and yet we all study or work at an even higher level than that, at university. So we’re not totally right in the centre of society, but we do have some power in society; that is an opportunity to help marginalised people.
When we study development studies or nursing or education, we learn about the situation of those on the margins in order that we might help them. Let us continue with this important work. This week in chapel we will add another dimension to this. We will look at our God, Jesus Christ, who is introduced to us using the names of marginalised people, these women.
So, starting at verse 6, we meet King David and King Solomon with these words, ‘Jesse bore King David, David bore Solomon, whose mother was the wife of Uriah.’
This woman ‘the wife of Uriah’ is identified by the name of her first husband. When she gave birth to Solomon, she was the wife of David but before she married David, she was married to Uriah. Why are we reminded of her history?
It is because when we hear the name of Uriah, we remember that David killed Uriah to cover up his own sin that he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah. Do you remember this story from 1 Samuel?
Chapter 11, ‘It came about in the new year, when kings go to war, David send Joab and his offices to fight, but David remained in Jerusalem.’
David doesn’t do as a good king does here. Good kings go to war with their soldiers but David stays in Jerusalem. This is not a good start. What will happen?
v.2 ‘One day, during the evening, David woke from his bed and went up to the roof of the palace.’
Hey? He woke up in the evening? Has he been sleeping all day? Sounds like like a lazy king!
Let’s continue. ‘When he was wandering around up there, he saw a woman washing and she was very beautiful.’ V.4 ‘David sent a messenger to bring her. So, Bathsheba came to David and David lay with her.’ After this episode, Bathsheba became pregnant and David called her husband Uriah home. David hoped to cover his sin but Uriah didn’t lie with his wife so David had him killed. After this, he married Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.
In this story Bathsheba is abused by David. She was a good woman, as we see when we’re told that she cleansed herself like a good Israelite. However, she did not have the power to refuse her King. She was a woman, on her own with her husband away at war. She had no choice but to obey her king and to go with him, so this is not her sin.
David has all the guilt here. He had the power and responsibilities of a king but he used them to do evil. He did not go to war as a good king should, he was lazy, he coveted the wife of his neighbour, he lay with her, he tried to conceal his sin, he killed the husband of Bathsheba, Uriah. When we hear ‘the wife of Uriah’ in Matthew 1, we remember this sin of David though he was King of Israel.
David is right in the centre of Israelite society. Bathsheba is vulnerable, on the margins. Yet, who is righteous? Bathsheba. In this story, it is not David. The person on the edge has done better than the important person in the centre of society. To mention Bathsheba using the name of her first husband reminds us of the sin of David.
Even David, the king of Israel committed sin. Even David did wrong. Even David needed a Saviour. Even David was waiting for Jesus Christ.
But this Saviour, Jesus Christ, King of the whole world, was not born in a palace. He was born in a stable in a village. There God did a very great thing. Jesus was not born like a king; he was born as a poor person. Yet through him, God would save all people. He was not born as a rich person; he was born of a young girl, a virgin. Yet through him, we received the gift of God himself in Jesus Christ.
All this is because God is a God who is at work on the margins among and through people of low status. Bathsheba was righteous, so she contrasts with the sin of David. Jesus Christ is righteous, and he is able to wipe away the sin of David. Both of them come from the margins. There God is at work.
We people of the university, we have a wonderful opportunity to study, but let us not forget that God is not only at work in the town or city. He is not only working through leaders. Since I arrived in Tanzania 2.5 years ago, many Tanzanians, especially men, have told me about their mothers in the village. When they speak of righteous people, they do not mention national leaders or others. They talk about their mothers – mothers who work hard caring for children, tending the farm, doing business, being involved at church, etc. This situation is just like the genealogy of Jesus.
God is at work on the margins, even using women, even in the village. Let us not despise these people, because this week as we continue with Matthew 1, we will see that Jesus Christ himself was born on the margins, and his grandmothers were on the margins of society too and yet they were at the centre of God’s wonderful plan for the world.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.