One of my daughters has recently been doing some schoolwork on family trees and family history. In trying to answer her questions about her ancestors, I have had to do some research of my own. In fact, I have also been inspired to go beyond the information she needs. I’ve not gone as far as registering with “Ancestry.co.uk” and I’m not in line to appear on the TV show “Who do you think you are?” but I have to say I am genuinely interested in my family’s history.
I also recognise that you might not be, and that you might be dreading what’s coming next… don’t worry – I’ll keep my stories to myself! What I would like to share with you is a reflection about the relationship between history and legacy. A good way to illustrate this is to consider what we know about Jesus.
There are a number of different ways of looking at Jesus’ history. If we wanted a starter for ten, we could do far worse than the first verse of Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus is “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” In this sentence, Matthew tells his readers some key facts about Jesus. Abraham was the founding father of the Jewish nation, and David was the nation’s most celebrated king. To have both of these in your family tree was a real privilege and Matthew knew that writing this down would cause his readers to sit up and take notice.
As we read on we discover a whole load more interesting stuff. It’s largely hidden from people with little knowledge of the Old Testament, but Matthew’s first readers would have caught the references very quickly. There are four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy. The mention of women in such lists is rare – and therefore this is significant. When we look more closely, we may be startled by the stories we uncover…
As well as Mary, whose story we know well, Jesus’ family tree includes a woman called Tamar who pretended to be a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law in order to trick her way into some kind of inheritance. Then there’s Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho who betrayed her king and city by hiding the Israelite spies and lying to the police. There’s also Bathsheba: Matthew’s entry reads simply, “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah”, but the story behind this note is dark – when his adulterous affair caused Bathsheba to fall pregnant and he couldn’t hide it any longer, David (the King) had Uriah (one of his most loyal soldiers) murdered.
So Jesus’ family tree contains histories of deception, prostitution, treachery, adultery, betrayal and murder. Yet look at how he turned out… trustworthy, truthful, compassionate and kind, courageous and steadfast; the epitome of selfless love. His family’s history didn’t prevent him from leaving the most amazing legacy the world has ever seen. There’s encouragement here for anyone who looks with sadness at their family background; Jesus understands. Our families may describe us, but they don’t need to define us. Whatever our past, we should work to leave a positive legacy.