It’s always fascinating to read commentaries about historical figures, especially those from very long ago when fact or accurate reporting wasn’t always the most important part of the story. Legend is sometimes so much more inviting! I find this sometimes true especially in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Today’s gospel reading is the familiar text of the genealogy of Jesus from the first chapter of Matthew, almost universally dreaded by first-time lectors because of so many unfamiliar names. I always read it with interest, wishing I could trace my ancestry further back than I am able – even if not 14 or 42 generations as in Matthew’s recounting. I never skip any of the names (I may need to read them aloud at some point!) and always note the fact that there are only four women named: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Mary, the mother of Jesus. All “outsiders” in ways that affect the “family line” they also appear, upon research, to be strong, sometimes wily, women – worthy of attention and, yes, admiration. At the mercy of culture and patriarchy, it is a wonder they survived. One wonders at the reason for their inclusion in the list. I must conclude that it is because their lives were not at all ordinary, as well as the fact that they figured into the lives of some significant men. Something in me says that there must’ve been others who were notable – maybe just not carriers of the family line of Jesus.
Things are different now; women are more central to world events. But as I read and pondered the stories again this morning of these four, I am drawn to reflect on women of our own time, “outcasts” in some way, living on the margins of society, who have been or are now instrumental in shifting the consciousness of a culture or a nation – or maybe just the town or family in which they live. Perhaps I’ll start my own list today. The first name that comes to me is Dorothy Day. A good start indeed!