“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Read Matthew 1:1-3
Family trees look so innocent, don’t they? The simple lists of names only hint at the varied lives and stories of the people who bore them. Digging into Jesus’ family tree is no different. Matthew’s list is populated by an assortment of characters, though not many are women. Because they are so rare, their stories are especially notable.
Tamar is the first to appear and sends us back to Genesis 38. It isn’t the kind of story that most families would brag about. Judah, the father of Tamar’s children, was really her father-in-law. Tamar had been married to Judah’s eldest son, the son who would have inherited a double-portion of Judah’s estate. When that son died without heirs, Judah married her to his second son who was expected to father a child that would take on his deceased brother’s name and inheritance. Angry, he refused to provide a child for Tamar.
The second son died as well, and Judah promised Tamar his third son, but he never delivered. Instead, he sent Tamar to live as a widow in her own father’s household. It was a move that effectively exiled her. No son, no husband, it was as if she did not exist.
Tamar eventually shamed Judah into acknowledging his failure. “She is more in the right than I,” he said, and for the remainder of her life she was treated with respect. Her place in Jesus’ lineage reminds us that God demands justice for the widow and orphan. The lowly will be lifted to a place of honor and the wicked punished.
God of justice, help us to act rightly. Open our hearts and hands to care for the vulnerable among us.
Valerie Rempel, Ph.D., Dean, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary