An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 (NRSV)
In case we are tempted to think Jesus had a perfect family, Matthew comes to the rescue.
The first 17 verses of Matthew’s Gospel introduce a cast of unsavory characters swimming in Jesus’ gene pool: liars, thieves, frauds, murderers, adulterers, manipulators, corporate hucksters, and egomaniacs.
Think your family is weird? Jesus’ ancestors will out-dysfunction anyone you have at the Christmas dinner table. Ashamed or embarrassed by family members past and present? Jesus knows all about it.
Even Jesus’ immediate family was far from traditional. By showcasing the sordid details of his ancestors, the stage is set for Jesus to redeem the human family, beginning with his own.
The angel told Joseph to name the baby Jesus, which means “God saves,” because this child is about saving people from drowning in dysfunction. Maybe Joseph changed his mind about Mary because an angel told him to, but maybe Joseph realized he needed Jesus in his life and in his family as much as anyone. Maybe Joseph’s understanding of family was under radical redefinition.
God enters the world in infinite ways. For Christians, the most important way was through a blended, non-traditional family with very imperfect ancestors. Why? So Jesus could minister to billions of people who are also from blended, non-traditional, imperfect families … like yours, like mine.
God, frankly, I’m stunned Matthew included Jesus’ screwed-up family tree in his gospel. I’m even more amazed that Jesus includes a judgmental screw-up like me in his family.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.