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The Women Ancestors of Jesus

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
February 7, 2016


Uriah replied to David, “The Arc of the Covenant is out there with the fighting men of Israel and Judah—in tents. My master Joab and his servants are roughing it out in the fields. So, how can I go home and eat and drink and enjoy my wife? On your life, I’ll not do it!”

“All right,” said David, “have it your way. Stay for the day and I’ll send you back tomorrow.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem the rest of the day. The next day David invited him to eat and drink with him, and David got him drunk. But in the evening Uriah again went out and slept with his master’s servants. He didn’t go home. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front lines where the fighting is the fiercest. Then pull back and leave him exposed so that he’s sure to be killed.”

So Joab, holding the city under siege, put Uriah in a place where he knew there were fierce enemy fighters. When the city’s defenders came out to fight Joab, some of David’s soldiers were killed, including Uriah the Hittite.
 Joab sent David a full report on the battle. “By the way,” said Joab’s messenger, “your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.” Then David told the messenger, “Oh. I see. Tell Joab, ‘Don’t trouble yourself over this. War kills—sometimes one, sometimes another—you never know who’s next. Redouble your assault on the city and destroy it.’ Encourage Joab.”

When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she grieved for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent someone to bring her to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son. But God was not at all pleased with what David had done,

I place this jug of water on the altar as a reminder of Bathsheba, the beautiful survivor who bathed with water and jug on her rooftop.

Here ends our scripture lessons for today.

Jesus’ DNA Was Powerful

Matthew traces Jesus’ family tree all the way back to Abraham, but all those begats include only four women: Tamar, the bold iniator, Rahab, the courageous negotiator, Ruth, the devoted friend, and Bathsheba, the beautiful survivor. Most of the stories were probably told and/or written down around the time of King David, approximately 1000 BCE. Some go back centuries before in the oral tradition. They reflect the culture of the ancient near eastern world.

Each of these women lived hard lives. Their stories tell us much about the evils of gender inequality but for centuries they have been interpreted through the eyes of a male dominated clergy that assumed God’s goodness and righteousness meant for women to suffer and be silent. I have a rabbi friend who told me that until he heard these stories responded to by women who were being trained in rabbinical school (which didn’t happen until the 1970’s), the Bible felt like a dead document with no place for truth and growth and wholeness.

Now we can explore the stories of these courageous women to see if we can find meaning for ourselves! Although they may not reflect our own lived experience, they still are lived out in many parts of the world today.

Imagine you lived in a society that used you as a pawn in the game of property rights. Tamar’s father gave her to Jacob who gave her to his son Er. But Er dies so she goes to Onan. Onan doesn’t want to lose his property rights to an heir for Er so he spills his seed to be sure she won’t get pregnant. Then Onan dies so Jacob promises her a son by Shelah when he’s old enough, and sends her back to her father. She is now “used goods” with no value except as a baby maker. Women without babies were disrespected.  She was totally dependent on her father who probably had no use for her and found having to feed her an inconvenience. She takes her situation into her own hands and finds a way to solve her problem. Do we call her manipulative? Sneaky? What powers do women have in a world dominated by men? What power she had she took the initiative and used!

As we await the Super Bowl this afternoon it is important to know that sex trafficking is big business around this event. More violence against women happens on this weekend than at any other time of the year. Those of us who work to prevent these actions have been working overtime to prevent what we can.

Jesus dared to break rules, did what he felt he needed to do to challenge the powers that be. He did it with a man’s position of authority, but he regularly respected and encouraged women to find their own voices. Tamar is a worthy ancestor!

Rahab was a prostitute. There were only two ways for a woman to survive in the ancient world: marry well and have plenty of children, or be a prostitute and depend on men who wanted diversion. Rahab lived with her family in the massive walls of the ancient city of Jericho. The part she played in this iconic story of the destruction of that city meant that she and her family were the only survivors of a terrible devastation. “And the walls came tumbling down” is only the half of it. Every living thing in that city was destroyed, at least according to the story. There is no archeological evidence in support of this event.

Rahab recognized the power of Israel and sided with their God. It meant that she would go on to have children of Israel and one of those children was an ancestor of Jesus. But it was her determination to negotiate a deal for her family in exchange for protecting Israel’s spies that allowed her and her family to survive. She turned the tide of history for her family. She demanded a guarantee of safety. She lied to her own countrymen. What moral compass did she follow? It certainly wasn’t about politics or nationalism! How did she know Israel would win? Was being on the winning side enough? Was her belief in the God of Israel the good thing? That she survived because she used her intelligence to protect the conquerors may be all that matters. Saying God was on their side is always the perspective of the winners. As a woman, Rahab had no power except her knowledge and her negotiating skills. She used it to help save her family.

Ruth is an iconic and less complex character to understand and praise, but she was a Moabite woman, an enemy of Israel. Her story celebrates devotion but also reveals the helplessness of women in the ancient world. Her devotion to Naomi could have meant she would remain childless and poor as Naomi fully expected for them both. Her story is often read at weddings of two women as this is devotion outside the norms of their day. Ruth finds compassion at the hands of Boaz. He could have used her and tossed her aside, but he was a good man and so her story comes down to us.

And finally, we heard the story of Bathsheba, the beautiful survivor, David’s favorite wife, mother of Solomon. Renaissance art always pictures her as a seductress, but her story reveals again the total powerlessness of women. She could not say no to the king. If she had loved her husband, Uriah, a truly noble man, she grieved his death and may well have known it was at the hands of the man who would then take her as his wife. Her first child by David dies. Some of you know how devastating that loss can be. It is her second child who will be named Solomon. David had had several sons before him. It is only on David’s deathbed that the prophet Nathan works with Bathsheba to insure that Solomon will be David’s heir. Her losses had been great but she became a queen. She was favored by the prophet Nathan. She protected her son who went on to be a powerful king.

Was all this God’s will? When culture demands of women to accept the unacceptable, to keep silence and powerlessness as inevitable, it is easy to see this injustice in the past.
But today, in much of the world this absolute powerlessness continues. Women are property and have no rights.
It is important to note that Islam gives property rights and a voice to women. Several nations where Muslims dominate have women leaders. America has yet to elect a woman president. Listening to a CNN commentator on Monday evening as the Iowa Caucuses were coming to a close I heard four white males, one woman and one black man on the panel. One white male commented that Hilary always seems so angry. The black commentator interrupted him and said:
“We have to be careful of exposing our gender biases here! When Bernie Sanders or any of the other male candidates speaks loud and strong, he is described as passionate. But when a woman speaks the same way…she’s called angry!”

Maybe it is appropriate to be angry about all this. Anger may give us the energy we need to do what is necessary to change the world. A Chinese proverb reminds us that women hold up half the sky. Our Quiet Meditations this morning remind us that “A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done. (Marge Piercy) and “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” (Malala Yousafzai). And “The most effective way to do it, is to do it. (Amelia Earhart). Let’s do what we can to stand for gender equality and change the position of women throughout our world. Jesus would be proud if we did!