Yet, in Matthew she's listed as an ancestor of Jesus, in Hebrews as one of the faithful role models, and in James as one who was saved by her works. It would seem that prostitutes, in all their impurity, have a place in the reign of God, maybe even a place of honor.
I need that reminder this week. Some time last week, news of a young bride presenting her father with a certificate of her virginity started making the rounds. I've been in the world of purity pledges and True Love Waits. I've been in the world of "Jesus doesn't care what I do with my penis." I don't think either is a healthy approach to sexuality. However, the full discussion on a healthy approach to sexuality is for another day.
Instead, let me say this: there's a biblical precedent for abstinence until marriage. I'll easily concede that. But let's be clear that precedent is geared toward women. Without apology, these women were property. They didn't come with certificates of authenticity, but they might as well have. "Proof of virginity" comes up a few times. Her virginity, after all, made it easy to know her husband was the father of her children. Dad wouldn't have to worry about someone else inheriting his property. Property of all sorts seems to have been a big concern. Most of the rules about virgins and marriage are tied directly to that world. The awesome seminary phrase I like to pull out to discuss this is "patrilineal endogamy." The short version: men owned property and transferred that property to other men. End of story.
In another few weeks, churches will be telling stories of a virgin giving birth to the savior of the world. Some of them, like my church, will be nervous talking about a virgin birth because science. Others will be worried someone might actually use the word "pregnant" in worship. Most all of them will be a little nervous in talking about conception and childbirth and other things often relegated to private realms, or at least to the realm of women.
We will once again be reminded of the fact that our tradition says our savior was born of a virgin. We will once again see images of a young woman, pure and chaste. Let us not forget, though, that Matthew's gospel, the author who was most adamant that Mary was a virgin, is also the one who tells us of the prostitute in Jesus' lineage. Somehow, the person who worried far more about Joseph than Mary, telling us Joseph would just divorce her quietly, can hold the tension of a prostitute and a virgin together. More than that, he proclaims it as Gospel.
Maybe, just maybe, we can also learn to tell the stories of prostitutes and virgins side-by-side. Maybe we can even remember the stories we've inherited name both as beloved children of God. Maybe we can live a faith that has room for both Rahab and Mary.