Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Joseph the Righteous, Pt. 1

"Look at Mary carrying that gourd by herself...
...wait... that can't be a gourd..." :(
This past Sunday I had the privilege of teaching at the Brookdale Retirement Community. Given that these were mature men and women with various backgrounds, including Roman Catholic, I chose to focus on a lesser known, lesser imagined part of the events leading to the advent of Christ: the man who decided to obey God by marrying a pregnant virgin. I think it is high time we give some proper respect to Joseph, whom scripture calls "a righteous man."

Let's start with what the Bible says in Matthew 1:18-25:
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just [lit. "righteous"] man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, "God with us").  
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

If we simply take the text at face value and add the historical context, we find a level of breath-taking love in this simple account.

Joseph the Just
In verses 18 and 19, we hear that Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is far beyond our typical modern engagement. Joseph did not give her a ring. His family and hers had met and made a legally binding agreement. Technically, Joseph and Mary were married before witnesses with money exchanged. A contract was signed, but the wedding proper and consummation would be a year or more afterwards [up to seven years in some cases].

So here's this man, happily looking forward to his bride, waiting for consummation but already making sure she has his name and property if anything happens to him - yes, think on that. It was so binding that if Joseph died, she would be a "widowed virgin" ; it was not unheard of.

And he finds out she is pregnant. There is no way on Earth that did not hurt him. What is remarkable is that he has so much character and mercy, he is going to divorce her "quietly."

This means he won't make a legal issue of it, shame her publicly, or keep her dowry [the money the bride brought to the marriage when the agreement was signed]. In fact, to do it quietly he would have to probably pay the family a "bride price", which was typical in divorces without cause. You see, he would owe the family not one red cent if he proved she'd been unfaithful, but if he accepted the blame and merely paid the bride price, no one would blame Mary. They'd assume he'd changed his mind, most likely. For that, he'd have to pay 50 shekels. Keep in mind a shekel was near a day's wage [or best as I can figure]. Not an insignificant sum of money.

Joseph was going to pay it, just to keep Mary's reputation - knowing she was pregnant from someone else.

That, dear reader, is a righteous man. With far more love and mercy than we initially credit him with.


[part two]

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