At the start of Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’ family tree. It’s like an episode of the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are.” Along the way are all sorts of twists and turns. Good guys and bad guys fill the family tree.
Sometimes we treat Jesus like a porcelain figure. Pristine, clean and lifeless. The Jesus of Matthew’s gospel story is nothing like that. His genealogy points to his humanness. He is fully God but also fully one of us. Matthew points to the fallen humans we see in Jesus’ lineage. Perhaps one of the most notable names in there is Rahab. Rahab was King David’s great great granny but she is also not the kind of character you want in your story if you’re trying to keep it all pristine, clean and lifeless…but that’s not Matthew’s aim.
Matthew doesn’t name many women in Jesus’ genealogy but the ones he does name point to the darkest points in the story of the Hebrew people. Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience, he knows by just mentioning some names his audience will know exactly who he is talking about and what his reference is to.
By naming Rahab, Matthew is pointing towards the fact that Jesus’ great great great great….great great….great great….great great great gran was a prostitute. As spies sent by, the Jewish leader, Joshua enter the city of Jericho a prostitute called Rahab helps them hide. The Hebrew spies then promise her they will kepe her safe when the Israelite army takes the city. They tell her to hang a red cord from her window as a sign that she should be spared.
Rahab is both a potentially embarrassing part of the Jewish story (and Jesus’ lineage) and a sign that God doesn’t always work in expected ways. You don’t expect a prostitute to save the people of God. You also don’t expect the promised messiah, the great saving King, the Christ who the prophets have pointed to… You don’t expect him to come in the form of a little baby.
But as Rahab’s story shows, God doesn’t work in expected ways.