Our arrival in time and space, and our identities are shaped by those who came before us–the generations of foremothers and forefathers who represent the bloodline from which we descend, the heritage from which we have come. When we shake the family tree, we find those who have contributed not only to our genetic make-up, but to our endowed and/or indebted start-up in this life.
Matthew chooses to trace Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph’s bloodline, although in many circles it is customary to trace lineage through the mother, because as the saying goes, Mommy’s baby…Daddy’s maybe. Either way, there is truth to be discovered in our family trees–truth that helps us know from whence we came so that we can live our most authentic and fulfilling lives now. This truth does not, by any means, define us, but gives us the backdrop for our ancestral context which must be acknowledged if we are to make conscious choices about which legacies are worth preserving and which warrant abandoning.
While Jesus’ lineage is recorded mostly by paternity throughout the 52 generations stretching back to Abraham, the father of the faith, I find it intriguing that the five mothers given prominence in this genealogy all enter the family tree through a door of controversy. Tamar, having been widowed twice by two brothers and promised but never given to the third brother, disguised herself as a prostitute and slept with her widowed father-in-law–becoming pregnant with twins, Perez and Zerah–and it is Perez who is in the direct lineage of Jesus. Next, there is Rahab, whose name has almost become synonymous with prostitute. Yes, that was her profession, but there is a whole lot more to this brilliant and bodacious woman than what we tend to ascribe to her. For it was her profession as a prostitute that positioned her to provide refuge for the spies, but it was her ingenuity in leveraging what had been limiting her to lift herself and her family out of the path of destruction, and because she protected her family from calamity, her son Boaz is in the direct lineage of Jesus. Then there is Ruth–a Moabite, a foreigner, an immigrant–who at Naomi’s behest makes some questionable moves to get the attention of Boaz–going to the threshing floor at night, which was taboo for a woman, and lying at the feet of Boaz. Obed is born from their union, and he is also in the lineage of Jesus, as he is the father of Jesse. Later, we have Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, who David slept with and got pregnant while her husband was away at battle. When David could not cover up his paternity of the child because Uriah was a faithful soldier who could not be tempted to sleep with his wife while his men were on the battlefield, David had him killed in battle. Bathsheba gave birth to a son, who was struck with an illness and died, but she later gave birth to Solomon–who continues Jesus’ lineage. Finally, there is Mary, who was found to be with child before matrimony, and gives birth to Jesus, the Messiah.
It is telling that these mothers in the messianic bloodline are highlighted and not hidden, written into the genealogy and not erased, remembered and not repudiated. Regardless of how each of these mothers became part of the family tree, they are celebrated for the sons they bore who are in the direct lineage of Jesus. As I pondered this, I could not help but contemplate the stark contrast between these mothers in the messianic bloodline and the seven Mothers of the Movement (Black Lives Matter), who are in the spotlight because their children have been murdered and the powers that be would prefer that they were hidden, erased, and their stories repudiated. Both groups of mothers have had their share of challenges but the mothers in the messianic bloodline are acknowledged for the lives of their sons, while the Mothers of the Movement are known for the deaths of their children–for the tragic break in their bloodline.
The bottom line is that knowing and acknowledging our ancestral context, which can be much more difficult for some us, is a worthwhile process to engage. In fact, Henry Louis Gates hosts a series on PBS that traces the roots of famous people called Finding Your Roots. About two years ago the show traced the roots of Ben Affleck, and Affleck asked that they not include the slave-owning history of one of his ancestors, and that truth was not aired.
Trust me, we all have some characters in our family trees, but we have to acknowledge the good and the bad, the controversial and the commendable if we are to live our most authentic lives consciously preserving worthy legacies and creating new ones as we abandon worthless legacies and their remnants.
RECOMMENDED JOURNAL EXERCISE: Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions and write your answer to each in your journal. Take about 5 minutes for each question.
- What surprises are in your family tree or what keeps you from tracing your roots?
- What are the legacies in your bloodline that you would like to abandon?
- What legacies do you want to preserve and/or create?
Tara LaShawn Seabrook is a self-proclaimed “free spirit,” a public, practical, and prophetic theologian; a spiritual and social justice activist; a creative and cultural artist; and a prolific teacher, speaker, and writer. Currently, she resides in Guatemala where she is finishing up a 2-year volunteer in mission commitment with a non-governmental organization before returning to her native Charleston, SC in the spring of 2017. Her book based on her original poem, “I Am She: The Anthology” will be released later this year.