Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Rahab-ilitation: losing the tags

My wife and my daughter share an aversion to garment tags. The minute they get a new top, they’ll whip out a pair of scissors and snip off the small piece of fabric that directs how the item should be treated. If only it were so simple to do away with personal labels.

But the chances are you, like me, have have some of those little tags, usually hidden from view, that continue to rub. Occasionally we let them stick out by accident. We may not know they’re peeking out, but others spot them.

I’ve not only got a few of these tags, as a journalist I have assigned a bunch through the years. The ex-convict. The former president. The fallen leader. The prospective board member. The would-be star. As though one role, one moment, one decision defines a person for all time. As though a five-hundred-word article can tell everything.

Those of us living outside the public eye may escape these kind of media-made labels, but we likely have those fashioned by family, friends, and others—sometimes unintentionally,sometimes deliberately. Loser. Addict. Failure. Misfit. Rebel. Adulterer.

These tags may all sound very contemporary, but you could easily apply them to people in the Bible. And then there’s Rahab, who gets mentioned eight times in Scripture—five times as “the prostitute.” Not the most positive identifier.

You have to wonder about her family dynamics. Her mom and dad and brothers are around, but she’s running some kind of brothel in Jericho when two of the Israelite spies checking out the Promised Land seek shelter (Joshua 2). Talk about dysfunction.

But look what happens when we step back and take a longer, wider view. Not only is Rahab held up as a New Testament example of faith (Hebrews 11:31) and a symbol of God’s grace (James 2:25), she leaves a rich legacy in her family.

Some question whether Boaz was her son, as the genealogy in Matthew 1 suggests, or he appears further down in the family line. Either way, I wonder whether Rahab’s example of offering protection for the vulnerable foreigner played a part in shaping Boaz’s life, and the man who in turn gave shelter to the outsider Ruth.

What is clear is that the woman tagged “the prostitute,” who let down the red thread from her window, was subsequently woven into the fabric of the greatest story ever told. The woman who traded her flesh became part of the way in which God came in the flesh.

The tags we have been given may describe us, but only at a certain point in time. They do not need to define us. And as we cut them away, or let God and others do it with steadier hands, so that the actual fabric is unharmed, we will find ourselves part of something bigger and better than our own worst days.

The dictionary says that rehabilitation is being restored to “a former capacity… to good repute… to a condition of health or useful and constructive activity.”

The Bible might call it Rahab-ilitation.


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