Scandal! Every Family has One – Guest List

What is one thing you love (or have loved) about Christmas?

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I asked some friends, and this is what they said. Some said decorating the house while others said shopping (the SALE sign can be very therapeutic) for Christmas gifts. Others said the food (there is some food you only eat during Christmas). For others it was time away from work (Atheists may not believe in Jesus, but in order to get time away from work, they have decided to believe in Santa Claus). For others it was an excuse for a holiday (when Nairobi meets in Mombasa at Bobs). Yet for others it is the time to connect not only with friends, but also with long lost family members.

And if you are anything like me, there are family members you really look forward to meeting (my mum, my sisters, nephew, niece, cousins). But truth be told, there are some family members you would like to avoid like the plague. I, for instance, have an aunt who always called me a few days before Christmas reminding me that it is ‘Christmas’  and asks “utanilitea nini kwa sababu nilikulea na nikakubalisha napkin!”(what will you bring me; since I raised you and changed your napkin?). Ulinilea? (you raised me?) I cannot remember ever being out of my fathers and mothers home!! Every family has those characters. The wayward brother, the high as a kite cousin who views you as a cash cow, the aunt that always tells you “you’ve become so big!” Every family has some shaky characters, the ones you speak about behind closed doors in hushed tones.

As we approach Christmas, we like to look at the story of Jesus, and the truth is that Jesus family was just like ours. If you shake Jesus’ family tree hard enough, some very shaky characters fall out. Jesus actually had some relatives that make your most wayward cousin look like a saint. Throughout this month at Mavuno, we will be going through a series titled; SCANDAL: Every Family Has One and we will be introduced to some of these colorful characters.

In the Bible we have four accounts of the life of Jesus, recorded by four different authors – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each of them had a unique personal encounter and experience with Jesus. Having come from different occupations and nationalities, they wrote their biography of Jesus from slightly different perspectives. Matthew, whom we will focus on this month, was a Jew writing to his fellow Jews. Now if you know their history, for thousands of years the Jews were awaiting a savior, a messiah prophesied to come and restore their lost kingdom.  This messiah, it had been prophesied, would come from the lineage of King David.

Matthew’s main thrust in writing his story of Jesus was to convince the Jews that Jesus was, indeed, the promised messiah they had been awaiting, and that he was descended directly from King David. So he starts his story of Jesus very differently – he starts with the genealogy of Jesus so as to answer important lineage questions.

Before we dive into the genealogy of Jesus, I want us to note that ancient historians did write out genealogies of famous people. Even the first books in the Bible contain a lot of lineages of people groups. But most historians provide us with a revisionist view of those family trees and of history. They were paid by kings, emperors and military leaders to make sure they looked good in the present and in the future. They made a big deal over their conquests and over their sons who came after them and became military generals or emperors. Needless to say there were gaps in their stories. There were branches missing from the family trees, so to speak. Military defeats were excluded or downplayed, as well as criminals and even children who didn’t turn out up to par. The goal of these well-paid “historians,” and I use that term lightly, was to make everything look great about the person. I guess Matthew didn’t get the memo. He goes out of his way to add to the genealogy of Jesus certain family we would rather keep hidden in the closet. Let’s take a peep at this lineage for a minute:

Matthew 1:1 – 6

He starts very well, by connecting Jesus to important historical figures like Abraham and David, so the Jews would believe. But as he goes along, he decides to include some very questionable family members; some who if he chose to leave out, would have little impact on the lineage. Let’s journey a little through the lineage…

 

1 “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah (Christ in Greek) the son of David, the son of Abraham; 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.”

Up to this point Matthew is doing alright. Good job!

3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Whoa!

Hold up; Two immediate problems. Firstly, the Jews, very much like traditional Africa, lived in a very patriarchal society. You were your father’s son or daughter (unless of course you did something stupid, then your father would tell your mother, “Angalia huu mtoto wako” – look at your child). Why start including people’s mothers, and why start now? In the mind of the traditional Jewish reader, male or female, this was very unconventional, and would reduce the writer’s credibility. Secondly, and very importantly, why Tamar? 

Tamar wasn’t your loving respectable aunt who would come and pinch your cheeks and tell you how big you’ve grown. Tamar had a less than stellar reputation as someone who slept with her father-in-law. In fact if you read Genesis 38 it feels a little ‘Cuando Ses Mia’ (Mexican soap opera), a little PG18 – we will not go into here. Why Tamar? 

Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, 

Not again Mathew! He throws in another woman, and not THIS woman. If it were today, and for some reason you saved Rahab’s number on your phone, it would be tricky. On my phone I have Musau Mechanic, Kelvin Fumigate, Njoroge Butcher, Atieno Tailor. For Rahab, it would be Rahab the … (prostitute). Very embarrassing if you are in a meeting with your current (or even worse prospective in-laws) and your phone rings – your partner shouts out, “Sweetie, it’s Rahab Prostitute calling!”

#Awkward #RudiNyumbani #EmptyHanded.

But this is who Matthew chose to include!! It would have cost him nothing to leave her out. 

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, 

Thank goodness. A good story. OK, she is a woman, but at least she is an honorable one. But the problem is that she is not Jewish. Is Matthew trying to tell his Jewish audience that the Messiah he is trying to tell them about is not even 100% Jewish? His great great great great…grandmother was from Moab? NOTE: Moab was the son of Lot, born of an incestuous relationship.

Why is Matthew constantly taking seemingly unnecessary diversions? Why these side runs…Focus on the men … the men and get us to David!

 Let’s continue … Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.

Finally Mathew! We’ve arrived. Let’s stop here…isn’t this where we were going? 

David was the father of Solomon, (and now look how he says it) whose mother had been Uriah’s wife. 

Ever been walking with a group of friends and you bumped into an old pal. You quickly introduce them to each other and after chit chat, you move on. But a few steps after this you turn to them and say, “That was Mary (and in your most scandalous voice), Peter’s ex!” You know what we call that – Mushene (gossip). All of a sudden everyone goes, “Aaaaah!”

That’s what Matthew seemed to be doing here. Mushene! First, she is introduced as, ‘she had been Uriah’s wife’ – her real name, Bathsheba, is not even mentioned. Secondly, if you know the story, King David slept with the wife of one of his best friends, Uriah, impregnated her, and then conspired to have her husband killed.

What in God’s name is Matthew doing here? Why go out of your way to highlight the failures? The sinners? The broken women? Why skip the “real women heroine” like Sarah, and Rebekkah, and Leah. Why Tamar, and Rahab, and Solomon’s mother who had been “Uriah’s wife”?

To answer that question, we really have to understand who Matthew was, and what his frame of mind was. We must understand his past in order to appreciate his present. 

Matthew’s story begins in chapter 9. It happens in Capernaum … Matthew 9: 1 – 7

The Bible then writes that …

8 As Jesus went from there, He saw a man named Mathew sitting in a tax collectors booth. “Follow me”, he told him, and Mathew got up and followed Him.

This is when Matthew met Jesus. We don’t know whether Mathew’s tax collector’s booth was in the vicinity of what was happening and whether Matthew saw what was going on before they met. We do not know if he witnessed that or he just heard it from others. 

Three things I see here. Firstly, it’s almost as if Matthew is going out of his way to inform his readers that the time he met Jesus was immediately after the moment that Jesus looked at the paralyzed man on the mat and told him, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.” A second thing I see is that Matthew was a Jew (I think we’ve already covered that). But a third thing is that Matthew was a tax collector.

Picture colonial Africa, where foreigners have come in and subjugated the locals. The locals despise them. There is even a Mau Mau-type resistance movement against the foreigners. Now picture some locals who turn against their own people and decide to help the colonial masters fulfill their dreams (because their dreams are also valid). This wasn’t very far from tax collectors. Tax collectors were Jews who collected tax from their fellow Jews on behalf of the hated Roman Empire. Their own people reviled them because not only were they seen as turncoats, traitors and back-stabbers, they also grew very wealthy from over-taxing their fellow Jews – they would collect a thousand shekels, keep five hundred, and using Middle Eastern union, send the rest to Rome. They were so reviled that according to the religion of the day there were two types of bad people: the sinners (murderers, thieves, fornicators), and another far worse category – tax collectors.

Mathew then must have been an embarrassment to his family … ostracized from the community … never accepted in the synagogues … not considered ceremonially clean. His only friends were fellow tax collectors and sinners. So you can imagine the range of emotions the rest of the disciples must have experienced when Jesus says to him “Follow me and be my disciple”. Anger. Confusion. Rage. Disappointment.

So imagine Peter, James, John and those others who hated tax collectors. They may have been planning what slur to say to him, or whether or not to spit on him. Would they get bonga points for being “holy” and rude? Should they ignore him? How would their new leader react?  They had loved the way he had shoved up the religious leaders by healing the paralyzed fellow earlier and were waiting to see what He would do with the tax collector….the betrayer of Israel… Terereeeeen …. “Follow me and be my disciple,” They were probably in quite a quandary … 

What? Can you hear the protest from the disciples? “No! You gotta be kidding me! You want him to come with us?”… “Peter, did you hear that? He did NOT just invite this scumbag to come along.” But, yes, he had. And to their surprise this tax gathering thief joined them. He began hanging out with them – the rest of the day! Then Mathew probably asks Jesus at some point “where are we going?” and Jesus tells him: “why don’t we hang out at your house?”

Matthew invites Jesus to dinner at his place, where the rest of the guests were, in the words of Matt. 9, “tax collectors, and other disreputable sinners”. Not just sinners – ‘disreputable sinners’! What an insult. There are sinners, and then there are disreputable sinners. Look at the person next to you and ask them….

The inevitable happens and word gets round that Jesus is having dinner not just with sinners, but with disreputable sinners. And worse; Tax collectors. It’s not long before the religious types show up and say, “You Mavunites!” Oh wait! That’s not what they say. They say (Matthew 9:11 NIV) “But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, Why does your teacher eat with such SCUM?” Even the Pharisees, who Jesus spoke so lowly of, despised the tax collectors.

Now the disciples may not have been equipped at the time to handle the questions and allegations from the Pharisees, but I think the answer that Jesus gave was very useful not just for them, but more so for Matthew, who having been ostracized by family, friend and foe, knew very well his own brokenness and shortcomings. Listen to Jesus;

12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I (Jesus) have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

After this encounter, Mathew went on to spend three years with Jesus. Mathew watched and listened to Jesus. Mathew heard Jesus teach. Matthew heard him forgive sins, cast out demons and refuse to condemn sinners. Mathew had lived with the man and experienced His heart. Mathew stood at the cross as Jesus died and at the empty tomb at Calvary. Mathew saw the resurrected Christ.

As we go back to ask ourselves, why did Matthew write Jesus family history the way he did, I think it is because Mathew understood the point of the story. To Mathew, Jesus came for the Tamar’s, Rahabs, Uriah’s wife’s. Matthew knew that this was also his story. Because you see, the people like Rahab and the people like Judah and people like Tamar and the people like Bathsheba …who was Uriah’s wife … these were his people. These were his kinds of people.  These were the kinds of men and women that were his friends the day he met Jesus for the first time. These were the people Jesus came to serve and to save.

I think Matthew knew that these shady characters, with all their baggage, and all their sin, and all their embarrassing stories – they were the point of the story he was about to tell. Mathew wanted to make a very powerful point that Jesus did not just come for sinners, but get this…Jesus came from sinners.

So, can you imagine what was going through Matthew’s mind as he wrote out this genealogy? He must have laughed as he thought about what those Pharisees were going to think. He must have smiled and chuckled the whole time he was writing, “Wait until they read that?! Hmm, who else can I add in there?” Every time he got to the next character – “Tamar, oh yeah, she’s in. How about Rahab – “nothing like a prostitute at the family gathering to make the religious people squirm.” Matthew knew how important these characters were to the redemptive story of Jesus.

My one point in the message today is this – the church is at its best when it is a hospital for sinners, and not a hotel for the saints.

This is why we do what we do at Mavuno – we allow people to come without putting them in a pigeon hole. My prayer for you is that may you see the heart of Christ and also have the heart of Christ

I think part of the challenge we face as the church is that we forget what Christmas is about, and why Jesus came in the first place. He did not come for those who thought that they are well, and those who have cleaned themselves up. He came for those who know they have no hope and are in need of saving. Our commitment as Mavuno is not to make this space comfortable for the clean, but an inviting space for the broken. Because that is why Jesus came – not for those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners. You know why, because the church is at its best when it is a hospital for sinners and not a hotel for saints.

I suspect as we listen to this message that we are in one of a number of places. I think there are some amongst us who appreciate their own brokenness. Those who say like David in the Psalms; “My sin is always before me”. You’ve messed up, and maybe you are living with a sense of guilt and condemnation. I have good news for you – Christmas is about you, Jesus came for you. And his words to you are the same words Matthew first heard Jesus say – “Be encouraged. Your sins are forgiven”.

To someone here who has been struggling with Sexual sin; whether it is fornication, adultery, masturbation, impure thoughts, pornography – be encouraged, your sins are forgiven. To the one who procured an abortion and feels like you are very far from God … be encouraged, your sins are forgiven. Maybe for you in your business or daily dealings you have been thriving on theft/bribery or corruption to get ahead, be encouraged, your sins are forgiven. Or maybe you are harboring anger/un-forgiveness/impatience/bitterness be encouraged, your sins are forgiven. Jesus still says to you ”Follow me and be my disciple…”

Remember this … the church is a hospital for sinners, and not a hotel for the saints.

But I think there is another group of people who are in danger of becoming like the Pharisees, becoming self-righteous and judging others. Because we see the Matthews all around us, but our attitude to them is one of judgment and condemnation … and as a result we never invite them to become part of the Jesus story.

Is there a family member you have written off, or you are too embarrassed about because of their lifestyle choices? Is there someone you work with, or live next to, and all you have for them is judgment and condemnation? Is there someone who was once a friend of yours, but religious distance has come between the two of you?

Are there people who if they heard you were a Christian would be perplexed, because they have never seen you extend grace to them? They’ve never seen you dine with them in their homes, or protect them from religious types who attack them? Who are the Matthews around you, and what is your attitude towards them?

Remember, the church is a hospital for sinners, and not a hotel for the saints.

Jesus’ lineage is filled with shady characters, people with less than stellar pasts . . . none of whom could have come to God on their own merits. But a relationship with God has never been based on our own goodness. So if you feel like the things you’ve done (or haven’t done) are keeping you from God . . . well, you can let go that thinking … And conversely, if you feel like the things you’ve done are responsible for your relationship with God . . . well, you can let go that thinking out too. If there’s anything that the Christmas season reminds us of it’s that we’re all in need of help . . . help that Jesus is willing and able to give.

It is by grace that we are all made members of His family. It’s not by any effort of our own … Jesus is calling us to come …to come as we are. Be encouraged, your sins are forgiven… Jesus is calling us to come home…

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