A New Nickname for Christmas
Let's be honest about something: Looking at the genealogy of Jesus can be downright scandalous. I mean, there are people in there that really should not be allowed to mix with regular folks. Have you read Genesis 38? It's enough to make Jerry Springer blush! And then there's Rahab. Again, can we be honest about something? People never refer to her as simply "Rahab" -- nope -- she has a nickname, doesn't she? She's Rahab the Harlot (or "prostitute" for you new-fangled NIV types).
Now, having a nickname is not an unusual concept -- even in the Bible. For example, everyone's heard of John the...? That's right Baptist! And there's a character in the Old Testament known as Uriah the...? Hittite.
In popular culture we know about Dennis the.... Dora the.... Kermit the.... (Menace, Explorer, Frog)
These nicknames give us some clue about the character and nature of the person. Dennis is a menace. Dora loves to explore. Rahab was...well...Rahab was a prostitute -- a hooker -- a harlot -- she ran the best little whorehouse in Jericho. No reason to be bashful about that. It's a matter of historical record (despite the best efforts of well-intentioned folks who may try to convince you otherwise).
Sure, Rahab stopped turning tricks at some point in time. In fact, she eventually settled down, got married and had a baby. But still she had that nickname; she'd earned it.
The big question -- again -- is why Matthew felt the need to put her in the list of names there at the beginning of his version of the Jesus story.
Well, Matthew had a nickname too, didn't he? He was Matthew the...(tax collector). He knew what it was like to have earned a bad reputation and a moniker to go with it. And Matthew knows what it's like to be caught red-handed in your sin by Jesus (who earned a few nicknames of his own -- including "friend of sinners"). He was, after all, collecting taxes when Jesus called him to become a follower.
It would make lots of us feel more comfortable if Jesus had told Matthew, "First, get up and walk away from that table. Promise me you'll never do something like this again. Now, go and do something nice and see if you can earn a new nickname for yourself. Then you can come and follow me."
But that's not what Jesus said.
He said, "Come and follow me right now."
"But I have a bad reputation, Jesus."
"You think I don't know that?"
"But I'm wearing this name tag that says 'Matthew the Tax Collector'. It's kind of a nickname. I'm not really proud of it."
"I can see your name tag, Matthew. I'm not blind. Bring it with you. And go and get some of your friends. Tell them they can come, too, and I don't care what people call them."
See, Jesus knew that you can't change your nickname on your own. It takes time. It takes help. And it only comes after you've agreed to follow him.
So, how about it? Anyone want a new nickname for Christmas? You can have one. You bring your old one to Jesus and exchange it for something like "Forgiven", "Accepted" or "Beloved".