Last week I had the privilege of subbing for Mike while he was out for the week, which meant spending 4 days with 9th graders. High school freshmen. HIGH SCHOOLERS! Prior to last week I was terrified at the thought of being confined to a room of high school freshman… but God is surprising and I came away floored by my experience. I genuinely had a fun time teaching and talking with these young women and men.
Since the classes were working their way through the book of Matthew and had just finished going through Jesus’ genealogy, I decided I would take a day and teach the students about the five women (including Mary) that Matthew purposely mentions when working from Abraham to Jesus. Whenever I get the opportunity to teach on Matthew or the birth of Jesus, this is a favorite lesson of mine. No surprise there!
Since there are several theories as to why Matthew included these women (remember, Luke’s gospel doesn’t) I decided to walk through each narrative from the OT with the students and have them point out things that stuck out to them about the women and their stories. I created a chart on the whiteboard so that as we progressed the students would start to see some similarities. There were three things in particular I hoped they would see: 1) these stories are to some degree scandalous or infamous, 2) many of the women were Gentiles, and 3) the hope or unexpectedness of a baby. Furthermore, I cautioned the students from thinking that these women were all ‘bad’ women or that they were the ‘villains’ of their stories. Instead, I wanted them to see how Matthew’s choice to include Tamar along with Judah points readers back to Genesis 38 and reminds us of the whole story, not just Tamar’s infamous reputation as the women who dressed up as a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law. I think this is most evident in the way Matthew refers to Bathsheba, not by name, but as Uriah’s wife… thus framing the way we view not only her but David, the man who who had much and stole from the man who had little.
Tamar was probably the most interesting story to go through with the students. Most of them had never heard about what transpired between Tamar and Judah and they were blown away that this story was in the Bible. “Tamar dressed up as a prostitute?” “Wait, is what Tamar and Judah did incest?” “Onan did what?!”
Though not directly related to the lesson, I was eager to ask the students who they thought was to blame: Judah or Tamar? Predictably, while the students recognized that both had done things that would deem them scandalous, most of the blame fell on Tamar. I pushed backed a little and asked them, based on the conclusion of the story, who did the author intend to take the blame? This lead to some interesting discussion on whether the ends justify the means and I chose to leave the question open with the hopes that the students might wrestle with the text a bit more.
Most of the students were surprised when I wanted to include Mary, Jesus’ mother, among the other scandalous stories. “But she’s Jesus’ mom!” So, I asked them to consider what people would’ve thought about Mary, a young, unmarried virgin, who became pregnant. Would they have believed her story?
As we worked our way from Tamar to Rahab to Ruth to Bathsheba and finally to Mary, I wanted to encourage the students to think about how good God is.
God works through, saves, and brings BROKEN PEOPLE into his kingdom. God enters in to our mess and starts to make it good again. This is good news for us.
God’s heart has always been for THE NATIONS, for all his creation. Gentile women grafted in to God’s people long before the world understood this was God’s plan. This is good news for us.
And, lastly, I took them back to Genesis and the protoevangelium–God’s promise to make all things right through the birth of a little baby. This was the most fun to teach to the students… God’s faithfulness to his promises, and to his creation.
In Genesis 1, God creates and everything is good… very good! In Genesis 2, man and woman sin resulting in broken relationship with God and with each other. Things go from very good to very bad.
But God, of course, doesn’t leave his creation to its own destruction. In Genesis 3:15, he promises a child; he promises to make all things right; he promises good news.
3.14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
3.15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
This is good news for us. Jesus, God’s child of promise–God himself!–has come to make all things right… to get back to the very good that God intends for his creation.
So, I survived my four days with high school freshmen. And as I said, God is surprising… never had I imagined I might actually like working with high schoolers! My hope is that they enjoyed their time with me as well and learned something new about God’s surprising and unexpected, yet perfectly characteristic, grace.