Thursday, March 19, 2009

Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to take Mary into your home.

The word of the LORD came to Nathan the prophet: Go, give my servant David this message from me: When your life is over, and you rest with your ancestors, I will choose a child of your own flesh and blood as your heir, and I will grant him a kingdom that will last forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. Your house and your kingdom will last forever; your throne will endure for all eternity. (II Samuel 7: 4-5, 12-14, 16)

The promise God made to Abraham and his descendants, that he and his descendants would possess the whole world, was not based on the law, but on faith. The fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God, and accepting whatever he does. God’s promise is not something we deserve, something we can earn, but a gift, pure and simple. That is the only way the promise can be received, not only by those who keep the law, but those who have never heard of the law. Abraham is the father of us all. Not our father in the flesh, but our father in the faith.

Abraham was first called a father by God, and then he became a father in the flesh because he dared to trust God to do what only he could do, make something happen that seemed impossible. When everything was hopeless, Abraham continued to trust the word of God. He decided to live not on the basis of what he knew he couldn’t do, but rather on what God said that He would do. And so, he became the father of many nations, as we read in the scriptures. That is why his willingness to trust God’s word was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22)

This is how the birth of Jesus took place. His mother, Mary, was betrothed to Joseph. But before they lived together, Joseph discovered that she was pregnant. Joseph, a righteous man, was not willing to expose her to disgrace, and decided to divorce her quietly.

While he was trying to figure out a way to do that, Joseph had a dream, in which an angel of the LORD spoke to him: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to take Mary into your home. The child she is carrying was conceived through the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus, since he will save his people from their sins. When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel had said, and took Mary into his home as his wife.
(Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24)

Back in the first half of the 20th century, and earlier, paintings of the Holy Family on Nazareth depicted Joseph with a grey beard and a fringe of grey hair. To make him look old, of course! On the other hand, it would be unimaginable to portray Mary as old, because older women are beyond the age of childbearing. There is something in our human nature that is invested in keeping Mary just barely this side of adulthood, and moving Joseph as far as possible to the far side of it.

We have molded Joseph to fit our notion of what a holy man should be. We should, instead, remold our image of him to fit the role he played in the history of salvation. When he decided to take the mother of the holy child into his home as his wife, and to raise her child as his own, it was necessary that the synagogue officials in Nazareth – the canon lawyers of the times – to find what he seemed to be admitting was at the very least, a plausible possibility. We need to restore Joseph’s manhood! We don’t seem to have a problem with that on May Day, the feast of Joseph the Worker. Not Joseph the Weak, the Ineffectual, the Impotent!

When Jesus spoke about his Father in heaven, he did so with tenderness and affection. Where did his human nature first experience the reality of the word “father”? From Joseph, of course! Joseph must have been a very successful role model of fatherhood!

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