We often think the world has gone mad. Maybe it has. We hear the craziest of lies paraded as truth and the truth dismissed as so much foolishness. We are a proud people who insist that we deserve to be treated better than we are and who are quick to hit send or delete and punish the offenders on the unsocial social media. We refuse to sacrifice for anyone and anything and we will not wait for anyone or anything. If we are proud, our leaders are downright arrogant. But not Joseph. St. Joseph is the epitome of the humble man of God. He was a wise man, conscientious, and did nothing quickly or without careful thought. So it was when Mary was betrothed or promised to Joseph, yet before they were married, he discovered that she as with child.
Tradition suggests that Joseph was no teenager but a mature man, that those named as Jesus’ brothers were His step-brothers, children from Joseph’s first marriage that had ended in death. This family thought Joseph was crazy – even certifiable. Here was Mary, the Virgin whose only commendation was her purity, and now she was found to be with child. They were not fools. They knew where children came from. Joseph was not a fool. But he was pious and compassionate. He had no animus against Mary. He would quietly put away the betrothal and let her go. Undoubtedly his family would have wanted to make a scene. But not Joseph. He was an honorable man. He wanted to believe Mary.
Nobody would have blamed Joseph for tearing up the betrothal. In fact, even God admired the character of this strong but gentle man. Yet it was not quite what Joseph or his family had presumed. The child in Mary’s womb was not the child of another man but the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. If Joseph was patient and honorable in wanting to put Mary away without a fuss, he was not quite ready to believe a story like that. So just as the angel had come once to the blessed Virgin to place the Son of God in her womb, now the angel came to Joseph to assure him that what Mary said was true and to calm his fears with the voice of God.
In one sense, God was the spoiler. He took the blessed Virgin from Joseph but even God did not take her virginity. Mary remained a virgin before, during, and after the Annunciation. Even after the delivery. Let there be no confusion here. The God who had taken Mary from Joseph, returned Mary to Him. And with Mary, entrusted His only begotten Son into the care of this faithful, wise, patient, and honorable man. Joseph was legally free to walk away from Mary but he was not free in faith to walk away. In fact, his faith compelled him to believe the angel who visited him in a dream and his faith compelled him to become the faithful guardian of God’s only begotten Son. It was his faith that enabled him not to forgive Mary but to believe her and to honor her as the Mother of God’s Son more than even the wife he had been betrothed to take.
Perhaps Joseph would never escape the whispers of Nazareth gossips or the cynical laughter of the old men who thought him a fool. Joseph would never be understood in his patience or in his faith. But that did not matter. Joseph submitted to God’s will just as Mary had. He consented to God’s will just as Mary had. He trusted in the goodness of the Lord just as Mary had. He believed against hope, just as Mary had, that this was about more than Mary, more than Joseph, but the fulfillment of the prophet’s promise and for the redemption of the whole world. The world might have laughed at Joseph but God did not.
When Joseph went to Bethlehem and found no place for Mary and Jesus, it came as no surprise. Petty people and dirty minds had long ago looked askance at Joseph and kept their distance from him. But Joseph trusted God more than he feared man and he believed the Lord even when the cross he was asked to bear was great. If his family and friends knew anything about Joseph, they should have know this. He believed the Lord and this faith counted him righteous in the sight of God.
An old saying puts it this way. In marriage, it is the job of the man to die for his wife and children and it is the job of his wife and children to let him. You can laugh if you want but it is a profound truth. Self-serving acts and self-interest have come to dominate marriage and what is the result? More conflict, disappointment, and divorce than ever before. And the world is cheering on men who would put away their wives and wives who would mock their husbands and children who refuse to honor either mother or father. But where a man will heed the example of Joseph, die for his wife and children, there we see the glimpse of the Church and Christ the bridegroom who did just that for us. A man could do far worse than to emulate Joseph, live by faith, act with honor, and serve by sacrifice the God of our salvation and the family placed in his care.
Joseph was not acting out of noble principle, it was love. No, not the foolish, impetuous, lusty, infatuation that we usually call love. Joseph was showing to Mary the love that God had shown him. If you want to talk romance, a man who will sacrifice himself at God’s call and for his family is far more romantic than one who will curl up beside you because he wants something from you. Joseph was not some uncaring man who did not talk about his feelings – the common portrayal of masculinity that is subject to ridicule by our feminized society. Joseph was a man of God who lived by faith and acted in obedience to God’s command. We could use strong husbands and fathers like him.
In the end, Joseph got Mary. The words of the angel freed Joseph to do what he had wanted to do – to take Mary as his wife not out of lust but reverence and in the fear of God. So God set him free to do what Joseph really wanted to do. And Joseph was glad to do it. So do not feel sorry for Joseph but admire him. Do not forget him but remember the shape of his love, his patience, and his sacrifice. Men, do like Joseph and die for the sake your wives and children. And women, let him do it. And follow his example by submitting to him not in coercion or fear but in love that returns the favor. This is what God has done for you. In faith, do it back to Him but loving those in your care as He has loved you. It is not only what you live for that defines you but what you will die for.
If we have learned anything from Joseph, we will have learned this. God help us. Amen.
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