One day in 2008 32-year-old mother of a 10-year-old Naomi Jacobs took a nap. She had just taken her son to school and needed to study for a psychology class. But she felt exhausted and decided to rest.
When she woke up she was a 15-year-old school girl again. At least that was the identity her mind gave her. She woke up suffering “dissociative amnesia, a rare temporary memory disorder brought on by severe stress.”
She did know stress. The 17 years she had forgotten were ones you’d like to forget: drug abuse, bankruptcy and homelessness. Her last memory was also of going to sleep but in a bunk she shared with her sister when she was 15.
She stared in the mirror and did not know the person looking back at her. “’My mouth dropped open in horror. I screamed ‘No! Oh my God, I’m… I’m OLD!’” she says. One expert says that stress can cause people to lose large parts of their memory and even “a sense of who they are.”
That’s where Matthew’s audience found themselves. They too knew stress. Written just before or maybe slightly after A.D. 70 when the Temple fell, Jewish Christians were waking up to find they didn’t quite know who they were anymore. You might say they were having an identity crisis.
Jesus’ first followers were from Galilee. Judean Jews disliked Galileans. Land owners took advantage of them. The two wars against Rome started in Galilee. Trade routes through Galilee brought through bad influences.
Then Jerusalem and the Temple fell in A.D. 70. The Jewish factions became mainly one: the Pharisees. Their 18 Benedictions included one curse against Christians (#12 if you want to look them up).
Stress and conflict had been a way of life for Jesus and his followers. To this setting Matthew begins to write of the “origin” of Jesus. His remedy for a loss of identity is Jesus’ identity. So he traces his origins from Abraham to David to Jesus’ birth.
That was normal for genealogies. What was not normal were the women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and “the wife of Uriah” (referring to Bathsheba). All foreigners to the Jewish faith they found themselves a new life and a new identity in Jesus’ family tree.
Naomi found a new identity. She had to discard the person she thought she was and discovered who she could be. In speaking of her book Forgotten Girl she says she doesn’t regret the amnesia. She says, “It gave me a second chance to make some different choices this time around.”
And you can too. You may be a bit lost this season. A new job or no job. Uncertain future. Someone missing this year from your life. Young but don’t know what direction to go. And you may not know who you are or where you belong.
Then listen to Matthew. He’s been there too. He thought he was a tax collector. But he learned he was a disciple of Jesus. And when he came to know Jesus he came to know himself. He had a second chance.
You will too. Just listen to the diaries of this family tree. Go out on a limb and let Matthew remind you of some stories. Turn your attention to Jesus this Advent season.
Matthew is all about identity. When you know Jesus you know yours.