Monday, March 12, 2012

To Saint Joseph

Have you ever seen a St. Joseph's Day altar? I challenge you to look up a picture of one and read the history about this beautiful devotion that takes place next Monday in New Orleans. The altars are amazing, the food is delicious, but the most important part is St. Joe.

Apparently, he saved a small village in Sicily from starvation and certain death, and he saved New Orleans too! He is a busy saint. The altars are in thanksgiving for what St. Joseph did for New Orleans, and the Sicilian community in particular.

I wonder if St. Joseph could ever have conceived that he would be so well respected and loved. Did he have a glimpse of his legacy? In Matthew's Gospel, the author describes Joseph as a righteous man, engaged to Mary. When he discovers that she is pregnant, he chooses the righteous path. Joseph could certainly publicly denounce her, and she would be stoned to death, but he does not want her to be killed. Instead, he decides to quietly break their engagement.

I can imagine that the whole situation was really embarrassing for him. He thought he was going to marry this nice girl, and she is pregnant with someone else's baby. Sure, he might not have spent that much time with her or her family, but I am sure he would never have thought that he would be so disrespected. I bet he felt tricked and betrayed and stupid, and all those feelings are on display for his community to see and to gossip about.

You can just hear the talk. "Poor Joseph, he cannot find a nice girl," or "How could he not know? She is huge!"  His remaining pride can only be salvaged if he walks away. Sure, there will still be a little pity in others eyes, but he will recover, and there will be another girl to marry.

Except, Joseph has a dream. In his dream, an angel tells him about the child that Mary carries. Jesus is not an ordinary child. So, will Joseph be an extraordinary father? Will he let go of what his expectations of life hold and take hold of what God has planned for him?

He does not make a prudent decision. He makes an extraordinary decision. His extraordinary decision to marry Mary and to raise Jesus will move forward the Kingdom of God. His extraordinary decision will confirm for his community that he is a fool and cuckold.

I imagine that his pride was bruised again and again. He probably heard nasty comments about his wife and "his son" (I wonder how they make air quotation marks in Aramaic) all the time. We know from the Gospels that they moved. I wonder if it was to move away from the gossip, but rumors still followed.

His life could have been a lot easier. He could have married another, and maybe had children a little later. Having his children a little later would have meant that he might have been richer. No one would have said anything about the integrity of his wife and children. No one would have ever called him a fool again.

I wonder if he looked on his life and doubted his decision. Did he make a mistake? Was his dream just a dream? Was he a fool, after all? Maybe so.

Maybe he was a fool, but he chose to be faithful, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. His pride did not keep him from being faithful. His embarrassment did not keep him from being faithful. He chose a wholly different path than what society expected of him, and perhaps what he expected from himself. He did not make a prudent decision. He made a faithful decision, and he changed the course of his life and human history.

I am not sure he really knew what would happen. I do not think that he got his glimpse, but I like to believe that he found peace in his choice. In the Gospels, Jesus has siblings, so I kind of think that Joseph probably enjoyed his family and life. His life was not easy, but his life was faithful.

So, we thank Joseph for choosing the faithful life. We hope his example will inspire us to choose faithfully or choose to live for faith. Thanks, Joe!


Roger P Noah said...

"Joseph could certainly publicly denounce her, and she would be stoned to death, but he does not want her to be killed." This shows a lack of knowledge of what laws were actually enforced by Jewry in the Greco-Roman era, or in any post-exilic period including Persian Yehud. No, women were not stoned to death for sexual offenses in Jesus' time or any time since ~500 years before Jesus! The judicial stipulations of Deuteronomy and Leviticus (and Exodus) were not enforced in Herodian Palestine or, for that matter, in Hasmonean Palestine prior to Herod The story of the woman caught in adultery whose release Jesus engineers is certainly apocryphal and is not in the earliest manuscripts. Over-dramatizing the story will only win approval from those who are ignorant of Near Eastern history during this epoch. Going a but southwards, Arab tribes did not stone women for adultery until the rise of Islam 600 years later.

Roger P Noah said...

I am talking about judicial executions above. Women suspected of adultery could certainly be murdered by jealous fiancees and husbands, as they can be even today in Western cultures. But this is not what you were talking about. You were talking about a Torah-sanctioned execution for adultery, and that would not have happened (even though the law was on the books). Please look at this site:

(And, BTW, I am Christian).