In praise of dodgy women

This morning’s sermon is in praise of dodgy women. It is not a response to the nomination of the first woman bishop in the church…

I was asked for advice about reading the bible the other day, and one thing I said was ‘skip the genealogies’ – but sometimes they repay careful attention. I want to talk this morning about the lineage of Christ given in the first chapter of Matthew. There are five women listed, and I think that Matthew has a particular purpose in listing them. After all, they don’t have to be mentioned – Luke’s version of the genealogy doesn’t list them – so why does Matthew choose to do so? What is the point that he is making by including them?

First on the list is Tamar, found in Genesis 38. Tamar is a woman who impersonated a prostitute in order to seduce her father-in-law, and thus preserve the blood-line of Judah in Israel. Not a conventional hero.

Second on the list is Rahab, found in Joshua 2. Rahab was both a prostitute and a foreigner, who betrayed her own people in order to protect members of the Israeli army in their desire to destroy Jericho. Not a conventional hero.

Then comes Ruth, who has a whole book of the Bible telling her story – and it is a wonderful story – but at its heart is the tale of a foreign woman seducing her ‘kinsman redeemer’ in order to establish a safe and secure future. Not a conventional hero.

Fourth, and crucially, comes one that is not named – a woman who decides to take a bath on a rooftop in order to catch the attention of King David, following which comes tragic tales of murder and slaughter. Bathsheba is really quite far away from being a conventional hero.

So what do all these women have in common? They are all sexually compromised, they are all dodgy.

Which brings us to Mary, mother of Jesus, and the last named woman on the list. A woman of whom it can also be said that she was sexually compromised. A girl carrying a baby but betrothed to someone who isn’t the father. It’s quite possible that Matthew is responding to gossip about Mary, and the unusual nature of Jesus’ birth, by including all these women in the list.

He can do this for the simple reason that God works through them. That is, the whole point of the genealogy is that without these dodgy women then we wouldn’t have Christ.

From which I would simply want to ask the simple question: do we have room for dodgy women in our congregation? For those that society sees as sexually flawed or broken? And they don’t just have to be women! We are all of us dodgy.

I rather think that if we don’t have room for those who are dodgy, we don’t have room for Jesus either – if we say to the sexually compromised or unacceptable that there is no room for them in the inn, then I believe that Jesus will also move on. So as we prepare for Jesus’ arrival at Christmas, let’s also make room for those without whom he could not have come, and remember to give an acceptable place to the dodgy. Amen.