Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Role of Joseph

He was faced with a detestable duty. He was a man of compassion, even tenderness. But he was also a man [of] honor, a man of stern code. His obedience to the Law was unwavering. The moment he learned that his fiancĂ© was pregnant he knew that it was the end. The end, certainly, of their betrothal, and perhaps even the end of her life. 
It was two millennia ago in the Roman-occupied land of Judea. The man was named Joseph. His fiancĂ© was Mary. She was going to have a baby and it sure was not his. Compassion, honor and duty dueled within Joseph. He could not pretend there was no problem. She obviously had betrayed him. The whole town of Nazareth was watching. 
Finally, Joseph decided Mary would have to pay the price for infidelity as his honor and the Law required, but tempered with mercy. Joseph determined to break his engagement to Mary and dismiss her from his life without fanfare, leaving her to fend for herself. It would clear the slate, restore his honor and was as least hurtful to the young woman as any just solution could be. 
What the outcome might have been by Joseph’s plan we don’t know, because God revealed to him what was really going on, and Joseph changed his mind. 
Joseph dreamed of an angel, who informed Joseph that Mary’s unborn child was of the Holy Spirit. The angel gave Joseph instructions: take Mary home as his wife and adopt Mary’s child as his own, giving him the name Jesus, an ordinary name then, meaning,“God helps.” 
These things came to pass. In Joseph’s day, when a Jewish man gave a name to the child born to his wife, he was confirming the child as his own. Maybe others knew that Joseph was not the baby’s natural father, maybe they didn’t. It didn’t matter. When Joseph named the baby Jesus, he was also giving to Jesus his own identity, his own lineage. That is why Jesus could truly be said to be of the line of David, because Joseph was of David’s line and Joseph adopted Jesus as his own son. When Joseph named the child Jesus he was telling the world, “This child belongs to me, this child is my child.”
 And then he raised Jesus as his own son:
But more is going on with Joseph than is first apparent. A recurring theme of St. Paul is that Jesus' followers are adopted by God and made children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ. This should make us reconsider the significance of where Joseph fits in with God’s work. Joseph’s adoption of Jesus is highly significant. 
What if Joseph had said no to the angel and had sent Mary away anyway? Can we imagine Jesus growing up in the home of an unwed, single mother, both Mary and Jesus therefore outcast from society? How would Jesus have conceived of God as his heavenly Father if Joseph had never taken on the role of Jesus’ earthly father? But father to Jesus Joseph was. 
God adopts Jesus’ disciples as sons and daughters of God in the family of God. But first, God sent his Son to be adopted by Joseph into the family of mortals. Joseph affirmed on behalf of all humanity that God belongs with us, "God with us."

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