A "God with God" Moment:
Welcome back! Also welcome to January. You have probably seen depictions of the Roman god, Janus, from which we get the calendar name, January. He is depicted with two faces, one looking backward from where he came; one looking forward to where he is going. January is a perfect time to do just that; reflect and ponder on the past year and to strategize where you are going in the next 12 months.
Looking back. Let’s just look back to Christmas 2007. I imagine that at several different times throughout the past holidays you heard or read yourself the nativity story according to Matthew. The part I was taken by this Christmas was the section just before the angel shared his message. Remember:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matt 1:18-19)
Allow me to make just a few basic observations. First, in Matthew, the birth of Jesus is not narrated. Rather, what we are informed of are the unsettling circumstances; for example, a young unmarried woman pregnant and her betrothed who knows he is not the father. Now you must carefully keep the sequence of the story in mind. Joseph has not yet received the dream/heavenly vision that Mary is pregnant thru the Holy Spirit. You and I know this as readers of Matthew, but Joseph has not been told. I’m sure in his somewhat tense discussions with Mary she claims her innocence. But if you were Joseph, what would you conclude based upon the evidence? His action plan is simple yet profound; he will “divorce her quietly.” Matthew does not tell us what his other options might have been but a simple reading of cultural background will be helpful. One for example was to join up with Mary’s father and have her stoned for her adulterous actions. The Old Testament gives them that right. Moreover, the culture of the day tells us that both her immediate family and Joseph will suffer humiliating public shame for what all people think she has done. Her death would be a legal (and justified) way for this stigma of shame to be removed. Yet, Matthew tells us that Joseph did not “want to expose her to public disgrace.” Joseph is taking love and loyalty to a new height. He loves her and her reputation more than his own standing in society. He will suffer public humiliation for her sake. Wow, what a man.
Second observation: Matthew defines Joseph with a powerful Jewish word; a righteous man (Greek: dikios). Often in the Old Testament, one who is righteous is one who follows the commands of God. And in this instance, the commands of God say, Mary is a sinner and deserves death. But I think that here Matthew, in the introduction to his Gospel is (re)defining the term “righteous.” Joseph will not be one who does the commands of God but rather one who acts Godly. Joseph is one who suffers undeserved disgrace and shame for another. Hummm. I wonder if that sounds like someone else in the Gospel, Jesus?
Looking Forward. So, with January upon us how might we turn this reflection into a year-long application lesson? First, spring is approaching and some of you might be thinking about life-long companions. Might I suggest that you think Joseph as the model. Ladies, please look deep inside a man to see if the sincere desire of his heart is to protect you and your reputation from public shame. I need not be overly graphic to make my point. Maybe you might ask yourself the question; “Does this man love me in ways more than himself. Will he protect my public and private image, even at the cost of his own?” Second, men, where do you think that Jesus learned to live a “righteous” life? My guess is, that at least in part, he learned it by watching his earthly father Joseph live a godly life day-after-day. What a bold task of a father, to teach the “Son of God” how to live a godly life. I’m not being sacrilegious. It’s the God-given task of every earthly father. Moreover, each of us teaches others a life of faith by the way we live each day; faith and righteousness is learned in community. But you need not wait until you are a father to live a “righteous” life. By then it might be too late. Why not begin right here and right now. In the midst of Spring Summit, why not cry out to God and tell him you want to live a life like God, like Joseph, like Jesus.
May we see models around us that empower us to live righteous lives.
May we see the pain that we might create if we fail to live such, and cause others to falter
May You empower us to live like the saints of old, in this day NOW.
Forgive and cleanse us, Lord, in the midst of this Community, Your Body
Now, Go with God