Today’s Gospel gives us the geneology of Jesus, which begins St. Matthew’s Gospel, and about which I’ve written before.
One of the striking things about the geneology is that it doesn’t trace the line from Abraham to Jesus only through men. Rather, the geneology includes four women, something unheard of at the time. By their inclusion, St. Matthew emphasizes that women as well as men were part of the important human component in Jesus’ origins.
What is interesting is the choice of women. No mention of Sarah, of Rebecca or of Rachal. Rather, we get women who present an interesting mixture of admirable and (at least in historical terms) less admirable qualities. One of those women is Rahab, a Cannanite prostitute. We hear her story in the book of Joshua in relation to the seige of Jericho.
When Joshua sends two spies to investigate the Canaanite city, they seek shelter in the house of “a harlot whose name was Rahab.” The informants of the Canaanite king discover thy are there and the king demands that Rehab turn them over. Instead, she hides them and lies about their presence. She confesses to them her belief that “Yahweh is he who is God in heaven above and on earth below” and helps them get away. Her protection of the Israelite spies permitted the Israelites to conquer Jericho. She extracts from the spies a promise that she and here family would be saved, which promise Joshua honored before destroying the city.
Robert Ellsberg, in his book Blessed Among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time (which arrived at my door a few days ago via Amazon), talks about the lessons we should draw from the story of Rehab. He writes:
[A]s one whose profession placed her among the outcasts of society, she had responded with special interest to the story of the Exodus and of the covenant Yahweh had formed with the runaway Hebrew slaves. She chose to defect, to change sides, to worship the God who led slaves to freedom.
Rahab’s is the story of a marginalized “outsider” who, by her courageous deeds and faith in the promises of Yahweh, the Lord of history, was raised to a place of honor among God’s special servants.
Rehab stands as an example that the outcasts and the marginalized are as much as part of Jesus’ lineage as those we are more likely to count among the biblical saints and heroes.