I was asking God to give me some inspiration when reading the first part of the Christmas story in Matthews gospel which I usually skip over because its full of the ‘begats’ – which ancestor ‘begat’ the next one and who he begat and so on. It just seemed a long list of ancient names till I discovered they just love this list in New Zealand, calling it in Maori, THE WHAKAPAPA of Jesus .
Intrigued I investigated the word further, discovering that “Papa” is anything broad, flat and hard such as a flat rock, a slab or a board and ‘Whaka’: to place in layers one upon another. It’s like our word genealogy, but is so much richer; it’s to do with all the relationships that make us what we are. So, in this preamble to the Christmas story, Matthew, tells us of the three layers of Jesus ancestors, building layer by layer upon the past towards the present, and pointing into the future.
And it’s incredible.
The first layer is the Age of Faith (Matthew 1v2-6a) and it begins with Abraham – the great man of faith, through who’s descendants God promised He was going to bless all the nations of the world. God then goes further up, starting the next layer with Israel’s hero, the Goliath slaying greatest king of all David. This second layer from verses 6b to 11 lists all the Davidic kings that reigned. Its the Age of Royalty, the great period in Israel’s history.
Then comes the third layer, the Age of Failure which lists all the kings that didn’t get to reign because the nation had lost their way, been conquered, Jerusalem destroyed everyone taken away in chains and enslaved in Babylon. This age of failure stretched right from the Exile up to the Roman occupation and Joseph (verses 12-16).
A closer look at some of the people in Jesus’ whakapapa throws up some startling insights because in ancient genealogies in the East women had no place, but in verse 3 you find Tamar who was violently raped.
In verse four we read “Ram the father of Amminadab …” Amminadab was a slave, his hands manacled, his feet fettered. In verse 5, Rahab a prostitute and Ruth a widow. Why not the great women of the Bible like Sarah and Rebekah?
Could it be that all these are in the genealogy telling us something important about what Jesus had in his DNA? Could they all be pointers to those whom Christ would come to free and restore : a rape victim, a slave, a prostitute, , a widow, a Temple rebuilder – and layers upon layers of people who had so much going for them but they failed.
But there’s more, there’s a sting in the tail in v16 where Matthew is at pains to point out that Joseph was in fact not the human father of Jesus: “Joseph married Mary who was the mother of Jesus’.
We can say he is one of us, identified with us, but he’s not one of us, separate from us.
So what’s your Whakapapa? Who are you? How has God shaped your life? Who are you built upon?
We all have a whakapapa – layers of different people contributing to our spiritual DNA, that have made us the people we are today. This Christmas, pause and reflect and thank God for those He has used to make you the person you are today, and be especially glad that you have in your whakapapa the ultimate solid layer, the sure and strong foundation of Jesus.