We could have dwelt on the fact that this woman was involved in — how shall I say this delicately — “the hospitality industry.” The woman did, in fact, have her very own red-light district under her very own roof.
Says so, right there in the Bible, in the Book of Joshua —
“So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.”
But there’s a certain sensitivity required for in-depth Bible study, especially when your Bible study companions are three fifth-graders.
So um, I, uh, stumbled a bit awkwardly when one of the girls, reading the words, stopped mid-sentence with her index finger glued to that one word–
“What’s a prostitute?” The 11-year-old girl looked me straight in the eye and lobbed the question into our tiny country-church Sunday School room.
“Well, um, it’s a, um, …,” I could feel the crimson rising in my cheeks. ” … it’s um, someone who … made some bad choices with her life. And uhhh … maybe you’ll want to ask one of your parents more about that when you get home.”
Yes, ask a parent. Good answer, Jennifer.
She looked back at me with slow, blinking eyes, while her finger stayed glued on the offending word.
“You ARE my parent.”
Oh, that Lydia. Always such a literalist.
I gave her a wide-eyed look from across the table, that one look that says wordlessly: “We’ll talk about this in more detail when we get home, m’kay?”
But there was more. There was more than one reason why I didn’t want to dwell on the prostitute thing for too long. That’s because there’s way more to Rahab’s story than her job at the time.
In the end, her sin didn’t define her. Her Savior did.
“Children,” I said, clapping my hands together. “We’re going to depart from the Sunday School lesson plan here for a moment. Because I’d like you to turn to Matthew 1:5.”
The three children abandoned their half-eaten Cosmic Brownies and rustled the pages, racing toward the Gospels, eager to unwrap the mystery and perhaps sensing the excitement in my voice, eager to know why we were breaking the rules, or at least, the day’s lesson plan. I dare say the moment was a bit electric. I could feel the hair raising on the back of my neck, hopeful that they would behold the miracle of what God can do with the sinner, the outcast, the fringe-livers, the people who’ve lived out the unmentionables behind closed doors.
My good friend Jordan, age 11, raised his hand, volunteering to read the verse. I nodded my head, and held my breath, as he read the words for the rest of us:
“Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was,” (he paused for dramatic effect) “Rahab.”
Suddenly, I had three sets of little eyes on me.
“Whoa. … That’s cool. Is that the … ?” Jordan asked.
I bobbed my head up and down, a smile widening across my whole face, feeling my heart swell in their discovery — and in my re-discovery. Like this was the first time I’d heard it myself, that Red-Light Rahab was an ancestor of my Jesus. I heard it like it was fresh news, hot off the press. “Yes, Jordan. Yes it is! It’s the same Rahab!”
And, right then, we just sat in the gape-mouthed silence. For one moment, for one holy moment, the four of us stared at the words in Matthew 1, while remembering the words in Joshua 2. Three 11-year-old children and a 40-year-old, tongue-tied teacher could only sit in awe, and behold the miracle and the truth about life with Jesus:
No sin is too heinous
No mistake too grievous
No past too dark
No reputation too shady
No life too useless
To be important to the story of God.
For every “Joshua 2” of your life, there’s a “Matthew 1” story. What’s yours?