Like Joseph

by Fr. Mark Kurowski | MySpiritualAdvisor2020

#LikeJoseph is the podcast for December 22, 2019, When getting what is our right is not enough, Joseph shows us.  Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Matthew1 #Advent #Mercy #Justice #Adultery #Joseph #Jesus #Mary

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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday,   12/22/2019  The 4th   Sunday of Advent.

Please pause this audio and read Matthew 1:18-24.

         Jesus is born in scandal. Jesus himself is a scandal. This Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are faced with the stage setting for Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day.

         Every three years, when we happen upon the annunciation of the Birth of Christ by Gabriel to Joseph, not Mary, but Joseph, I am swept away with Joseph’s goodness. It is hard for us to understand that when a woman committed adultery, the man had the right to do several severe, humiliating, and awful things to exact the justice for which he had that right. Under the Jewish custom, betrothal was much more serious than we take it. Betrothal was akin to the commitment of marriage. To have “a fling” during engagement was adultery, deserving of punishment.

         Joseph could have had Mary subjected to a trial, which was total humiliation. They would have found her guilty and stoned her.  So, Joseph’s wife was to be killed. Yet, that is not what Joseph wanted for Mary. He, instead, wanted to divorce her quietly to avoid scandal, avoid more humiliation for her, and avoid her death.

         Again, he had the right to exact his pain from his cheatin’ wife. That is not the direction he chose BEFORE Gabriel appeared to him. Instead, Joseph shows us that a man does not have to have his revenge. Even though he has a right, it does not have to be exercised. In fact, a holy man does not seek retributive justice.  A holy man seeks justice that is a remedy, a cure, a balm for the situation. This should make us ask about the kind of justice men exercise in their homes, in their employment, and in our justice system.

         Do we want the right to be exercised when it does not respect the dignity of the person who wronged us? So, Joseph is a man of mercy, like God is a God of mercy. God’s mercy is justice.

         Whenever I read this, I am ashamed of some of the decisions I made as a father. I wish I could have been more like Joseph all the time. How could I have been more merciful? How can I be more merciful in the future? Joseph is an exemplar for all of us, men in particular.

         So, in the face of scandal, Joseph seeks to uphold as much of the dignity of Mary as possible, although not excusing her of what seems to be untoward conduct.  Little does he know, that the Angel of God is going to appear to him and tell him that the child is of the Holy Spirit. It is important for Joseph to adopt Jesus. In becoming the legal obligatory of Jesus’ paternity, Joseph makes it so that Jesus is of the lineage of David. It is a fulfillment of what God told David in 2 Samuel 7.  Jesus will be “Son of God” by the Holy Spirit and “Son of David” as Joseph’s son.  Jesus is the one through whom the prophecies will come true. From David’s to Isaiah’s when Isaiah says that the one born will be “Emmanuel” or “God with us.”

         Joseph is told to take the woman and the child into his home to give the family legitimacy from scandal. It is God’s plan that the child be born and that his name will be “God saves.” That is what the name Jesus means, “God saves.” It is a prophecy of the life and death this scandalous child will live.

         How can he be God and man? How can he speak as if he is God? How can he when we know him to be the son of Joseph from our village? How can it be? Everyone, including Mary, will ask that question in one form or another. Some will ask in amazement of the mighty work to be done, as Mary does in the Gospel of Luke. Others will ask “how can this be?” as if it is an impossibility that God would come as one of us to save us. Everyone asks “how can this be?” except Joseph.

         Joseph, a man of God, who knew the Lord, heard the angel of the Lord as the angel appeared to him. This was not a dream, it was an appearance. It was not a vision. It was an appearance. The angel appeared when Joseph had resolved to be good to her. So, when the angel said, “This is what God wants,” he did it.

         We often talk about how Mary ‘pondered all these things in her heart’. Yet, there is not very much ink spilled over the fact that Joseph acted. He did not need any contemplation. He did not need convincing, he acted. He believed, trusted, heard God, and then acted. He acted love of God by trusting. He acted love of neighbor by taking Mary as his wife, regardless of the scandal that Kid brought and was going to bring into his life. 

This is how I know Joseph was a carpenter. How many guys on the job site are like, “Can we just make a decision and get moving?” The action speaks of his trust and intimate relationship with God. We, men, we need to have an intimate relationship with God. We need to know how God speaks. We need to know how God acts. We know this by staying close to him in prayer and in reading Scripture. Joseph is our example. Joseph is our standard bearer.

This passage on the Fourth Sunday of Advent sets the stage for what is going to happen on Christmas. The one who is the fulfillment of the prophecies, the one who is both Son of God and Son of David, a man, is going to be born.  Jesus will save us. Jesus will be God with us. Yet, where would we be without the tacit yes from Joseph? Even before he was born, Joseph said, “Yes”, to Jesus and his mission.

Additionally, what is interesting about Joseph’s response, is that he doesn’t discount Gabriel’s directive as being against the Law. In fact, Joseph has the right to use the law against Mary, but it is even better for him not to. It is even holier and more righteous to take Mary as his wife and raise the child as his own.  There is no bean counting, just graciousness.  This is what it means to be a man and an example to us all.  This is what it means to have one’s righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees.

The coming of Jesus Christ means more than just the fulfillment of the Law, the fulfillment of prophecy. It means that God coming to save us goes beyond what is required.  We seem to forget, that under the Law, there is justice that requires payment. Now that God will save us through Jesus on the Cross, there is no payment required because God has paid it to himself.  It is the greatest example of going beyond what is someone’s right. God has a right to exact justice. Instead, he extends mercy. He shows us how to see the Law through the lens of loving our neighbor.

The question becomes, what is needed to lift up the dignity of the person? Sometimes, it requires a person to pay the price because they need to be humbled. Yet, in the case of Mary, we can see in Luke that there is no more gentle and good soul than Mary. She is humble and kind. There would be no need to lower the hammer. The situation calls for wisdom as to how to maintain as much dignity as possible.  That is how God acts in sending the Son to Joseph to be Joseph’s son.

Is there a scandal in your life? To whom can we extend mercy this year? To whom can we extend the hand to raise their dignity, although they seemingly violated ours? To whom can we give redemption and respond beyond what the situation has a right to demand? Where does that apply in our lives?

The Christ Child is a scandal. The response to his coming by his would be step-father goes beyond Joseph’s rights.  We are called to be like Joseph. We are called to ask God’s plan and do it. Amen.

 

This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated.  My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2019.

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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.

Mark Kurowski, M.Div.

Executive Director

Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian