DELVING INTO JESUS’ DNA
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
OKAY, so maybe I was slightly disingenuous in my last column when I said I was a nobody in church.
After all, if you have read either of my first two columns, you would have picked up on the fact that I am a pastor’s wife.
Now, being a pastor’s wife is a huge honour. These female stalwarts are more often than not the pillar of church communities - teachers of the Word themselves, servants in multiple ministries, exemplary examples of what an ideal Christian woman should be.
Well, I’m none of those.
Which is why in my last column and in my “Who’s That Girl” blurb, I do not define myself as a pastor’s wife. Partly because I feel I do not deserve the title and don’t want to insult other pastors’ wives; partly because I neither fit into the image nor the expectations of what a pastor’s wife should be; but mostly because I’m not even the first wife of this particular pastor.
Yes, I am the second wife of a divorced pastor. And that makes me a hugely controversial figure in the eyes of many in the church.
Although I had nothing to do with the dissolution of his first marriage covenant - and, yes, I do consider marriage vows to be holy covenants - my innocence is irrelevant to many who know of our union. Many see me as a seductress who enticed a much-loved Man of God to break his covenant to the wife of his youth.
Norman was once a beloved minister of the church. He preaches with an intuitive understanding of the Bible and delivers cogent sermons with wonderful expression in a deep, powerful voice.
I know he was once beloved because, more than 10 years before we were formally introduced, he was the pastor-in-charge of my church. Whenever he was on pulpit roster, the carpark would be overflowing. (Sadly, he was only posted with us for a year during which time I made absolutely no impression on him - being a good 19 years younger!)
The circumstances of his marital woes also brought him much sympathy from the Methodist congregation and that endeared him further to his followers.
The divorce, however, changed things. And, despite it being a situation he fought hard against, the fact that he couldn’t hold his family together lost him a lot of respect among the wider church.
A year later: enter Joanne.
When he decided he could not spend the rest of his life alone, and we were introduced by a mutual pastor friend, many doors slammed shut in his face. Understandably, many thought he should have remained faithful to his ex-wife as he had previously vowed before God and men.
Joanne, being Joanne, however, did not understand.
If he had been so beloved, why were people not happy for him now that he had finally found happiness? It’s me, isn’t it? I’m too young for him. I don’t look like a pastor’s wife. I am not an established figure in my church. In fact, given our age gap, I probably confirm all those suspicions that I am a seductress who bewitched him with my feminine wiles.
Essentially, I would be a controversial choice for a pastor’s first wife - let alone a second wife.
It upset me greatly in the beginning. I’ve always thought myself likeable - popular even. Someone once called me Miss Congeniality because I tend to be a people-pleaser. Why, then, were people in this case so quick to believe the worst of me when they didn’t even know me and didn’t even try?
The breakthrough, for me, came via the very person who introduced us - our best man. Reverend Leslie Quahe had grown up with my husband in Anglo-Chinese School and remained close friends since. He had been my youth pastor during my teenage years who had baptised me with water and the Holy Spirit.
Yet Pastor Leslie himself had created quite a scandal when he married his wife - just over a decade younger than himself. “Cradle snatcher” was the obvious accusation. Years hence, however, their marriage has yielded much fruit and blessed countless people with their mutual ministry.
It was their example that convinced me of Ecclesiastes 3:11:
“He has made everything beautiful in its time...”
So for the past five years of marriage - we celebrate our fifth anniversary this Friday - I have clung to that verse and sung the song I learnt back in school:
“In His time, in His time,
He makes all things beautiful in His time;
Lord, please show me every day
As You’re teaching me Your way
That You do just what you say
In Your time”
It saddened me that, after our wedding, the invitations for my husband to preach dwindled, the requests to conduct marriages dried up to a trickle, and he no longer pastored a church but now pastors the community through the Methodist Welfare Services - a very important and meaningful job, but not exactly a coveted role.
[Editor’s Note: Norman wants to stress that his role as MWS chaplain is one he covets very much!]
In time, I came to understand that I could have been anyone off the street, but a divorced pastor’s second wife would always be a figure of controversy no matter who she was. I learnt not to take it personally and managed to even respond with grace when people gave me the side-eye, passed unkind remarks just loud enough to be overheard, gossiped behind my back, or were openly rude to my face.
Then, out of nowhere, when I was having coffee with a church acquaintance yesterday, and apologising for being a figure of controversy in the church, he gave me a wink and said: “Do you know God loves controversial figures?”
I‘m afraid I roared aloud with raucous laughter.
We all know Jesus hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes, and held gentiles up as models of ideal Christian behaviour. He was, after all, making an example of how we should be tolerant of sinners who repent and of non-believers who show a greater understanding of true Christian morals.
But to say God loves controversial figures was surely going slightly too far?
“No, actually. Have you read Jesus’ geneology in the Book of Matthew?”
Well, “read” would be stretching the truth. “Gloss over” would be more accurate.
“Go check it out. There are four women in there who are extremely controversial figures by anybody’s standards.”
That was too tantalising. I simply had to stay up all night researching.
Here’s what I found in Matthew’s listing of Jesus’ genealogy - the opening chapter of the opening book of the New Testament.
(1) Tamar (Genesis 38): Her father-in-law Judah - yes, he of the Lion of Judah fame - slept with her thinking she was a prostitute and not realising she was his daughter-in-law. She was the wife initially of his son Er; then upon Er’s death, the wife of his second son Onan. Judah cast her out of his household when Onan too died because he did not want her to marry his third son and end up cursing him too. Important point: Tamar was not actually a prostitute. She wanted justice because Judah did not do right by her and neglected his duties as a father-in-law according to the customs of their time. So she positioned herself in Judah’s way, let him assume she was a whore and allowed him to have his way with her. Her reasons aside, it was still a pretty forward move though. She eventually bore Judah twin boys, Perez and Zerah - Perez through whom King David and Jesus were descended.
Talk about a woman of controversy: surreptitiously seducing her father-in-law!
Judah and Tamar (1840)
(2) Rahab (Joshua 2): A Canaanite, she was the first person to encounter two Israelite spies that Joshua sent to reconnoiter Jericho. Thing is, she was a prostitute. Yet, she is lauded as the first Canaanite to convert to the belief in the God of Israel, while protecting the spies as they snuck around Jericho. So not only was she a prostitute, but she basically betrayed her own people by helping her enemies - definitely guilty of treason.
Yet another woman of a less-than-appropriate social standing.
(3) Ruth (Book of Ruth): Now Rahab gave birth to Boaz, who then married Ruth - both a gentile and a previously-married woman. But Ruth was not just any old gentile, she was from Moab - an ancient enemy of Israel whom God had cursed for not recognising His supremacy over their deities. Deuteronomy 23:3 says no Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. Nevertheless, Ruth was previously married to an Israelite and stayed loyal and devoted to his mother Naomi even after his death. Ruth, on Naomi’s advice, attempted to seduce Boaz but he did the honorable thing and married her, eventually becoming great-grandparents to King David himself.
Not quite as controversial as a perceived prostitute or an actual prostitute, but still a gentile from a cursed kingdom and a woman who had already been around the married block once.
(4) Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11): Her name is not overtly listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. But it’s written between the lines. Bathsheba was seduced by King David while still married to Uriah the Hittite. The king had seen her bathing, lusted after her, summoned her and impregnated her. #metoo, anyone? His majesty then murderEd her husband and posessed her as his eighth wife who eventually bore him his heir, King Solomon.
While Bathsheba’s name is probably the most infamous of all four controversial ladies above, I actually relate to her the most. An attractive but blameless woman whose only sin was not being more discreet in her bathing location. And though she was the victim of seduction, she’s often misunderstood to be the seductress.
So, Jesus was descended from these four controversial women. Interesting!
Then, of course, there’s his own mother Mary herself - perhaps the most controversial of them all. An unmarried, affianced young lady who gets pregnant before the wedding. Despite Joseph’s refusal to expose the fact that he wasn’t the father, surely gossip was rife.
Delving into these women’s stories with more focus and realising their contribution to Jesus’s direct lineage was revelatory.
But it also made me wonder how their peers would have treated them. Would they have gotten side-eyes from other women in the temples? Definitely. Would they have heard unkind remarks uttered just loud enough for them to overhear? Mmm-hmm. Would people have gossiped behind their backs? Absolutely. Would people have been openly rude to their faces. Some people, for sure.
For all that I’m a controversial figure in this day and age, at least I’m not a prostitute - actual or perceived. I’m not, as far as I know, a gentile from a race openly cursed by God. I haven’t been married before. And I certainly don’t bathe in places where I can be spied on.
If God used these controversial women to create the DNA of his only begotten son, I think perhaps He may just accept a blameless second wife of one of his beloved servants who happens to be divorced? Don’t you think?
And it’s not just the women. I mean think about the controversial men who gave Jesus His genes: Judah who intentionally procured the services of someone he thought was a prostitute; Israelite spies who took advantage of a foreign prostitute to find out their enemy’s weaknesses; Boaz who almost succumbed to seduction, and a king who murdered a loyal general because he coveted his wife.
And yet they are highly revered as Men of God - Judah who gave the Jews his name, and covetous, murderous David being one of the most famous men in the Bible known to be a man after God’s own heart.
I think perhaps God would understand that His beloved servant, Norman, who had fought against the breaking up of his first marriage covenant, just could not endure being alone for the rest of his life.
Are Norman and I controversial? Undoubtedly. Both individually and as a couple.
Am I criticising people who think we should not be accepted openly within the bosom of the church? Of course not. People have their convictions, reasons and sensitivities - and I can honestly say I am the last person to deny them their judgements. I can, after all, be as judgemental as anyone else. Just ask anyone who knew my opinion of Meghan Markle before I got chastised by a good friend!
To the person who showed me that God loves controversial people, you have no idea the gift you have given me. You’ve lifted some of the shame off my heart and I can stand a little taller in the face of gossip and judgement. Thank you. You know who you are!
Joanne Lee Wong is a writer, wife and corgi mum. She’s not a bible scholar, teacher nor church leader - just a former journalist and member of a Methodist congregation who struggles reconciling her faith with everyday experiences. All views expressed are her own.