Rahab, a Gentile and a prostitute, is included in the genealogy introducing St. Matthew's Gospel
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Rahab assured the royal soldiers of Jericho that the two spies had departed her place hours ago. “The Israelites wanted to leave before the gates to the city were closed,” she explained.
The soldiers thanked her for her assistance and left. After she had locked the door Rahab went up to the roof to check on her uninvited guests. “You can come out now,” she announced. “The soldiers are off on a wild goose chase.”
The spies pushed aside the flax under which they were hiding. Their eyes were red and itchy from the pollen. “Why are you helping us?” one of them asked. “You could have easily turned us in.”
“I have heard stories about the Israelites since I was a little girl,” Rahab answered. “It is obvious that God has been protecting your people since you left Egypt. Far be it from me to stand in the way of God’s plans.”
With another assist from Rahab, the spies made their escape later that night. They returned to where Joshua and the army were encamped and reported all that they had learned. A short time later the Israelites conquered the city of Jericho. They spared the lives of Rahab and her family in gratitude for what she had done.
More than 1,000 years later, St. Matthew included Rahab as one of the ancestors of Jesus in the genealogy that introduces his Gospel. According to Matthew’s account, Rahab was the great, great grandmother of King David. Given that genealogies of the time ordinarily listed only men, the fact that Matthew included women at all is rather remarkable. The inclusion of Rahab is especially surprising given that she was a Gentile and a prostitute.
It seems that Matthew wanted to remind us that God is full of surprises. In carrying out his great plan of salvation God often recruits unlikely helpers. Rahab was a clever, resourceful and courageous woman who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Even though she was a Gentile, she understood how God was working in the world and wanted to help. Her grandson Obed would marry Ruth, another brave and capable Gentile. With a strong lineage like that, it is little wonder that King David was such a success.
Of course, the surprises continued after God sent his Son into the world, as St. Matthew and the other Gospel writers recount. Jesus invited tax collectors, lepers, laborers, prostitutes, Samaritans, demoniacs and all sorts of other characters to be part of the plan. This ragtag group of followers scandalized the religious leaders of the time, but Jesus thought it was terrific. As he explained often, the Kingdom of God is big enough to include rich and poor, healthy and sick, saints and sinners. Each of us has a part to play.
For the Mass readings for September 8, click here. You can find the story of Rahab in the Book of Joshua, Chapter 2. To learn more about the painting of Rahab and the two spies, click here.
Author’s note: St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged us to use our imagination in contemplating Scripture passages so that we might draw greater fruit from them. In reflecting on the story of Rahab I use my imagination to fill in some of the details of the story.