This blog is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Advent 2022 series.
As Tamar is brought out to be burned for becoming a prostitute and being pregnant, she sends her father-in-law, Judah, his seal, cord and staff. “The person who owns these is the one who got me pregnant,” she says. In this act, Tamar refuses the shame others try to place on her and she redirects it to Judah, who has not treated her fairly or kept his promises (Genesis 38).
Rahab is introduced as “a prostitute whose name was Rahab” (Joshua 2:1 NRSV), and four out of the seven other times she is mentioned in Scripture, she is called “Rahab the prostitute.” This potentially shameful designation marginalizes her — both literally and figuratively — in her community, but it does not stop her from being listed as a hero of the faith, right alongside Abraham. (James 2:23-26.)
Ruth is a foreigner from the despised country of Moab. She is a childless widow. She spends her days doing manual labor, gleaning in fields. And she basically throws herself, in desperation, at an older relative of her deceased husband. Any of these aspects of Ruth’s life could be considered shameful, and yet, she holds a place of honor within the Scriptures.
Bathsheba becomes pregnant by a man who is not her husband. Her first-born child dies. And her second husband, King David, eventually sets her aside for younger mistresses. Even though Bathsheba is not at fault in any of these situations, they are all reasons she could have been shamed by her community (2 Samuel 11-12; 1 Kings 1-2).
And Mary. Of course we know the story of Gabriel’s visit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35 NRSV). Most people in Mary’s community, though, only knew that she was pregnant without being married.
What these five women have in common, in addition to being in positions considered shameful by many, is that they are all listed in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17). And isn’t that amazing? It’s amazing that any women are listed at all. And it’s amazing that these women in particular are mentioned.
Tamar. Rahab. Ruth. Bathsheba. Mary. Each of these women, in her own way and for her own reasons, rejects the shame that others would place on her.
If you go back and read their stories, you will note that, in each case, if the woman had accepted the shame, she would not have been in a position to act faithfully.
Shame might seem an odd topic for an Advent reflection, but I think this is the perfect time to consider how we, as followers of Christ, receive or reject shame in our lives. Because this is the season when we celebrate the incarnation — the fact of God becoming flesh in Jesus. The fact of God becoming human in Jesus is an astounding claim that we make, as Christians, and if we really believe it, then we need to consider what it truly means to be enfleshed — what it means to have a body in this world full of other people who also have bodies.
So often, the simple reality of having a body causes shame. We hold shame about what our bodies do — and what they don’t do — shame about what other people do to our bodies and what we do to theirs, shame about how our bodies feel in different situations.
But if we really believe that God chose to become flesh, then we have to reject the shame others try to place upon us for our bodily existence. This does not mean that everything we can do with or to our bodies is good or healthy. But it does mean that experiencing life as an embodied person is a holy gift, not a shameful necessity.
In this Advent season, the women of Jesus’ genealogy offer us examples of what it means to reject shame and move forward in faithfulness. They show us the potential power of our bodies in this world. They draw us into the wonder of our own embodiedness and the miracle of God becoming flesh in Jesus.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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