The Narrative Lectionary points us to Matthew 1:18-25 and Psalm 23:1-4 this week. Matthew is the Gospel of this year of the Lectionary, and we will spend this Sunday and the next in chapter 1 as we begin our journey from the Manger to the Cross, from Christmas to Easter.
Joseph’s Jesus story is the focus of this pericope, which follows the genealogy (the text for next Sunday). Little is known about Joseph and he disappears early in the account of Christ, but he is an integral part of the incarnation story. We are well aware that Catholicism exalts Mary beyond what is revealed in the New Testament, but at the same time we can appreciate that she fills a special place in the Gospel story in a beautiful way. But Joseph, well, is he one of the most neglected figures in the retelling of the incarnation account? I suppose that depends upon one’s experience.
Joseph is a sympathetic figure in this account. His humanity is on full display as he is placed in the decidedly uncomfortable position of having a fiancé with whom he has not slept, announce she is pregnant. There are no dramatic sequences related here in the text (though wouldn’t we expect there to have been quite an impassioned discussion about this situation?). In fact, it is all rather matter of fact.
Jospeh …had in mind to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:20
Even if there are no recorded words of Joseph, no doubt there was was inner turmoil. To put ourselves in Joseph’s shoes, there are several indications here of what he was going through.
He was faithful to the law. This problem would have to be dealt with in God’s way. As we read the law, it seems that Mary would be stoned (was this widely practiced in Joseph’s day?)
He was in love. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace. To me, this demonstrates the great love he had for young Mary. She was a perfect candidate to be the mother of the Messiah and I would think that her qualities also made her a perfect candidate to be a wonderful wife. There was something kind in Joseph described here… something that prevented him from an episode of anger and revenge. He loved her.
He was kind. He wanted to divorce her quietly. I am not sure how this could have happened. After all, they were already engaged (no pun intended) in the betrothal process. It was not a secret that they were to be married, nor would a pregnancy remain secret for long. Human beings are known for sharing the news of others, good or bad. But if Jospeh had his way, he would keep it to himself.
He was afraid. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Was he afraid she had been unfaithful and might be so again? Was he afraid of the social pressure that may have existed – to either get rid of Mary or forever be known as the one who took on an unfaithful bride (as considered by the townsfolk)? We are not told but I would think all of these and more made going forward with the marriage a fearful thing. Not to mention the information about this baby saving the sins of others!
He was involved – a part of God’s plan. Maybe because he disappears from the story early on, we can forget that Joseph was as much a part of God’s plan as Mary. The focus is, of course, on Jesus. But his earthy father was an important part of the way God planned to bring his son to the earth.
He was obedient. When he woke up from his vision, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” None of us can know the inner conversation he had, but we are moved by his obedience in the face of all of the consequences to come (socially, religiously, emotionally).
He was unselfish. He “did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son.” This is mentioned casually but the prophecy was that Jesus would be born to a virgin. The virgin birth is a miraculous element in the story that is not overlooked by Matthew. The youthful passion of this couple was put on hold. Joseph, as a husband, delayed the privilege of being with his wife in sexual union until the child was born.
He was common, but powerfully used by God. As the angel commanded, he gave the name Jesus – a common name given to a baby born to a common couple. But it was anything but common. The name of Jesus remains on our tongues as we pray, worship, and appeal to the Savior. Joseph, the common man gave the baby a common name, reminding us that God does not honor the privilege of royalty that attracts the human eye. This King was common … and yet every knee would bow before Him.
So, Joseph is a mixture of confusion, faith, fear, and obedience. Like all of us. When we read the story of Joseph and God’s attention to him in Matthew’s account, we find it easier to believe that God would know and care about common people like us – and perhaps use us to His glory.
The preacher has a lot of decisions to make in presenting this text. How does this story relate to us today and to what does it call us? The role of the Holy Spirit is prominent here, but often overlooked. Understandable, since we have so little information. In this post I have focused on Joseph, but the main character is the infant Jesus. I think especially with the Nativity story, it is hard to move beyond just a nostalgic retelling of the story to get to an application. I have no doubt that God will help us this week to appreciate something here that will help our churches follow the Christ more devotedly.
You are invited to join in conversation and sharing of resources on the weekly Narrative Lectionary texts in my Facebook group NARRATIVE LECTIONARIANS.