The Chosen One
Massive spoiler alert for those unfamiliar with Star Wars.
With a new Star Wars movie arriving - many people are eager once again to witness the exploits of one of the greatest villains and strangest heroes in modern cinema: the man known equally as Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker. Though often criticized, the prequel trilogy introduced this character as a young boy full of potential, to a mystical extent.
“I have encountered a vergence in the force. A boy.”
“You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the force. You believe it’s this boy?” - The Phantom Menace
Prior to this, fans of the franchise had no idea where this frightening, powerful, masked warrior named Darth Vader came from, or what kind of person he was beneath his mysterious exterior. The story of his childhood reveals humble roots: he is the son of a solitary slave woman who unexplainably became pregnant and gave birth to a child prodigy.
This prophecy of the Chosen One does indeed come true. Though it takes a long fall into darkness over the course of his lifetime, Anakin Skywalker eventually sacrifices himself to destroy the forces of evil that had thrown the Force and the Galaxy into chaos, fulfilling the prophecy.
Spoilers ended, but seriously how have you not seen Star Wars yet?
All heroes need a back-story. Whoever your favourite “chosen one” is, it’s likely that this character has been motivated by family history, upbringing, and other formative expectations and beliefs. The histories behind heroes make their actions more meaningful, as we see the progress and development of their character against the backdrop of where he/she came from.
And so as we come to the New Testament story of Jesus, the true Chosen One and the greatest hero of all, we begin with a look into his family history, his genealogy, for clues about what this particular hero is all about. The first thing we encounter in Matthew 1:1-17 is a careful account of how a lineage of men can be traced from Abraham (the founding father of the Jewish faith) to “Joseph, the husband of Mary, [...] the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:16).
There’s something worth noticing about Matthew’s genealogy – something you might not have noticed on the first read through: Matthew includes four women:
Tamar (vs. 3): Judah’s daughter-in-law, who married two of his sons, outlived them both, and then disguised herself as a prostitute and had sex with him instead to successfully bear a son to provide for her (Genesis 38)
Rahab (vs. 5): A foreign prostitute who betrayed her own people and sheltered Israelite spies (Joshua 2).
Ruth (v. 5): A woman from Moab, one of Israel’s enemies, who likely worshiped idols before she immigrated to Israel with her dead husband’s mother, adopted the Jewish faith, and married a local leader (Book of Ruth).
Bathsheba (v. 6): Named simply as the “wife of Uriah,” reminding the reader that David forced her into adultery and then murdered her husband so that he could marry her (2 Samuel 11).
Genealogy was a patriarchal concern, usually focusing on the male lineage. Why then, would Matthew bother to include women that the Jews would have considered ruined, fallen, or at least outsiders? Prostitutes, adulterers, and immigrants: these are the people that God used to bring about his plan. Before he even gets to the birth of Jesus, Matthew answers a question he knows his audience is asking: Who is included in the family of God? This Chosen One has come from and come for broken, fallible, imperfect human beings.
But there is more. In ancient culture, your family history was incredibly important. The male line determined whether you belonged to a tribe, what you could inherit, and whether you truly belonged to your religion. Even though Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ genetic father, Jesus still carried his family name and lineage. Matthew traces Jesus’ heritage back to Abraham - because God promised to make Abraham’s descendants a great nation (Israel) and to use one of those descendants to bring blessings to the whole world. He traces back to the tribe of Judah and King David to demonstrate a royal heritage - because God promised David that one of his descendants would always be Israel’s King, forever.
This Chosen One had a lot of expectations to meet, a lot of dreams to fulfil for his people. This King would one day wear a crown, but his coronation would be an immense sacrifice to finally bring the blessing of Abraham to the whole world.
There is a problem in Matthew's genealogy that often goes unnoticed: Jechoniah. (1:11-12) In the book of Jeremiah, Jechoniah's descendants are banned from ever sitting on David's throne again as kings over Israel (Jeremiah 22:24-30). So while Jesus can rightly inherit status as a descendant of Abraham, Israel, and Judah through his adoptive father Joseph, if he were to share Joseph's bloodline, he would be disqualified from the throne by his connection to Jechoniah. Do you see any potential solutions to this problem?
Mary was likely shunned by her community as a woman pregnant out of wedlock. Jesus’ other female relatives include a collection of foreigners, prostitutes, and adulteresses. How would mentioning these women affect how people saw Jesus?
Think about the way generations affected each other in Jacob’s story. Is Jesus trying to say that he’s breaking the chain? Is he saying that God can be associated with sinners? Is it something else entirely? How do you see parallels between these women and the rest of what you know of Jesus’ life?
Why do you think the Jews cared so much about family trees? Do we care as much today? Is there anyone interesting in your family tree?
The archetype of "The Chosen One" has become fairly common in the literature of our culture. Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker is one example, but the stories of Harry Potter, The Matrix, The Lord Of The Rings, and even Kung Fu Panda employ this character archetype. Do you think this cheapens the value of Jesus as the real-world Chosen One, or does it reflect positively on how Jesus' life and identity have shaped how our world thinks about heroes?