After reading the first couple of chapters of Matthew for the 11teenth time, I came upon this question, what happened to Joseph? Really? When it comes down to imagining the super stars in the family of Jesus, we have God the father, God the son, and …. oh we’re talking about the natural family of Jesus. Well Mary’s kind of a big deal at least to those of the Catholic tradition. In fact she’s held in so high preeminence that they call her the “mother of God.” Then there’s Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the first born from the dead, the bright and morning star, prince of peace,etc etc. Among the lesser known members of Jesus’ family is his brother James who would later co-lead the early church in Jerusalem, then there is his brother Jude, who some believe to have written that one page letter right in front of Revelation..At the end of the list there are his other sisters and maybe brothers whom we have no names given; apparently Joseph was trying to start his own football team, the “Saints”. Bad jokes aside, Joseph is a critical figure in the story of the gospel and is deserving of more of our attention.
There’s one story that I want to pick up on that’ll highlight Joseph’s unique position, but before that I will give a brief breakdown from Joseph’s eyes.
After proposing to his fiance, Joseph is shocked by the infamous words from Mary, “I’m pregnant”. Shocked, perplexed, and betrayed, Joseph is hammered by a torrent of crushing thoughts, how, to who, why would you do this to me? What will my family think? How am I going to cancel the wedding? I wouldn’t be surprised if Joseph even swore a little. We are not provided all the details of how Mary dropped the bomb on Joseph, but the fact that he tried to downplay it so that Mary could save face. Matthew 1 tells us he attempted to divorce her in secret.
19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[e] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. ( Matthew 1:19)
I don’t know how that process worked, but we get that in spite of the feelings of betrayal and hurt he had enough respect to end the relationship quietly, not on facebook; not the secret changing of one’s status from in a relationship to single; not through a text message or tweet, no public crucifixions, but privately. I can imagine what restraint he had, and am convinced that his graciousness can largely be attributed to him being a “man of the law”( Matthew 1:19). Joseph wasn’t a preacher, or a rabbi of his day, but a humble man who believed in God. This explains why in the next verse he decides to stay with Mary, because lets be honest, How many of us after hearing our fiance is pregnant with someone else’s baby would stay with her after having a dream? Even if an angel visited us, we could always chalk it up as something we ate, psycho analyze it away as insecure attachment issues, or find some other reason to let our emotions take away what was revealed. I believe Joseph’s familiarity with God’s word allowed him to recognize the voice of God in the dream. Even still I can only imagine the talk that Joseph had with Mary afterwards and the conflicting emotions he had because yes God had spoken to him, but yet he had to still deal with his flesh, and eventually forgive.
On top of that imagine you were told you would be the father of the son of God. Talk about pressure. This is one child you better make sure you take care of, because its really God’s son. Imagine the thought of Joseph raising his voice at Jesus, or even the thought of disciplining Jesus. I mean do you whoop God’s son? Do you put him in time out? Yes I know Jesus was perfect, but how many of you have ever gotten in trouble for something you didn’t do as a child. I mean Jesus was the perfect son, but there is no such thing as the perfect parent; and anyway I’m sure Joseph wasn’t thinking about his son being sinless at the time he was told he would be the father to God’s son.
So what happens after that? Well lots of things. Joseph marries Mary, and during the night of conception, is forced to have the baby in the local barn full of the pleasantries of cow manure, wet hay, and he has to be thinking why me? This is not the way to raise to son of God. They didn’t even have his first outfit ready; they had to wrap him in grave clothes. But God chose him, not because he was rich, brilliant, handsome ( though) he may have been at least chiseled, but because he was a man of the law, a man of God’s word. We all know that God does not look at the outward appearance as man does, but too many times we evaluate ourselves based on our outward accomplishments. What does God value? Integrity, faithfulness, hard work, and faith. So here’s Joseph probably thinking God if you said this, why am I experiencing this? And all he can do is obey without knowing why and trust that God will carry them through. God who in his own strange way gives this young couple a sign that his hand is with them by sending shepherds, complete strangers, to find them and to celebrate the birth of Jesus with them.
So where was Joseph’s family? Well we’ll get to that in part two. In the mean time let us meditate on and appreciate the faith and virtues of Joseph.