Friday, March 19, 2010

The Feast of St. Joseph, the Guardian of Jesus: A Devotional Commentary

Romans 4:13-18 Indeed, the promise to Abraham and to his seed that he should be heir of the world was not through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. However, if those who are of the law are heirs, then faith is made void, and the promise is made of no effect. As it is, the law brings about wrath; but where there is no law there is no transgression either. This is why the promise is to faith, so that it comes as a free gift and it is secure for all the descendants, not only for those who rely on the law but also for all those others who rely on the faith of Abraham, the father of us all. As it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations.” This is in the presence of the one whom Abraham believed: even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence what does not yet exist. Hoping against hope, Abraham believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what had been spoken, “And so will your seed be.”

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 After they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise! Take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” So Joseph arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. They remained there until the death of Herod, so what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: "Out of Egypt I have called my son." But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream when he was in Egypt, saying: “Arise! Take the young child and his mother, and return the land of Israel; those who were trying to kill the young child are dead.” Joseph arose and took the young child and his mother, and they came into the land of Israel. However, when Joseph heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Being warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee. He thus arrived and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarene."

Joseph lived a life of faith. According to very early Christian tradition, Mary was raised in the temple until she reached puberty. A woman having menstruation was not permitted to be in the temple. An angel of the Lord instructed Zacharias the high priest to assemble all the widowers and have them each bring their rods with the promise of a miraculous sign. God caused a miraculous sign to be given through Joseph's rod. The priest told Joseph that this was a sign that Joseph would be the protector of Mary. He would take Mary into his house and take care of her. Joseph was an older man with full grown children and had no interest in chasing after young girls. He was concerned for his reputation. The priest warned Joseph not to deny God's calling and Joseph feared God and obeyed.

Joseph and Mary are betrothed. During the betrothal period Joseph leaves to work on some building projects. When he returns Mary is six months pregnant. Joseph knows that he had nothing to do with this pregnancy and assumes what any person would--that some other guy has gotten Mary pregnant. The Scriptures say that because Joseph was a righteous man he did not want to publicly expose Mary but to put her away secretly. Joseph had faith in the true God and knew that God was a God of mercy. God's mercy and justice are tied together. If Joseph had publicly exposed his pregnant betrothed, nobody would have looked down on Joseph. He had a reputation to uphold. But Joseph knew that God does not operate in a transactional sort of way. By faith Joseph knew God's mercy and because of that faith he showed mercy to Mary.

From Joseph's perspective it's hard to imagine a more righteous option. By putting Mary away he was trying to obey God's law. But God calls Joseph to an even greater act of mercy. God calls Joseph to not cast Mary away but to take Mary as his wife. Mary was certainly innocent but things certainly didn't look that way and they definitely would not have looked that way to outsiders. People would have assumed that Joseph had sinned with Mary. And Joseph obeys God and takes Mary as his wife. In this way he acts a type of Christ. Christ marries a real adulterous woman--not one that just looks guilty. Christ marries the Church. Christ sheds His blood to pay for all the horrible sins of His bride. Christ sheds His blood for adulterers. Christ sheds His blood for you.

Joseph continued to live by faith. He trusted God's voice even when it didn't make sense and made him an object of ridicule. He doesn't become a great hero of the faith by his evangelistic missions but through fulfilling his calling. He is called to serve and protect a wife who never becomes his wife in the full sense of the word because she is giving birth to a child that is not his son in the full sense of the word. But he trusts God's Word. He doesn't try to dig his way into the hidden will of God. He lives his life trusting and believing what God has revealed.

If Joseph looked at his life and judged it by his own observation he would have to conclude that God hated him. Why else would God make him do all these crazy things? But the son that wasn't really his would grow up to bear his sins and die for him. Although Joseph didn't live to see it, this son bore Joseph's sins and died for them. And that is how Joseph could know that God loves Him. That is how you can know that God loves you. God's love is revealed in God hanging dead on a cross. Because God did this you can trust His Word. Believe that you were baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Believe that Christ gives you His very body and blood. Believe that your sins are forgiven.


Anonymous said...

I really liked how you explained this, Chuck! Your writings are explained so well. Love Mom

Mr. Miyagi said...

This is heat, Chuck! Great stuff. How much older do you think Joseph was?

Chuck Wiese said...

The very early "Protoevangelium of James" says that Mary was 12. It does not give an age for Joseph but it does say he has grown children and he makes the claim that he is very old. The later document, "The History of Joseph the Carpenter" written in Egypt between the 4th and 5th centuries says that Joseph was the father of six and was 90 when he married Mary and died at the age of 111 which would offer an explanation for why Joseph is never mentioned after the time in which Jesus was left at the temple as a child. It also offers a good explanation for why Jesus entrusted his mother to John rather than one of his "brothers." Ultimately none of this matters. But the church tradition is interesting and does not conflict with the Scriptures.