19 March 2019Matthew 1:18-25
Joseph, being a righteous man ... (v.19)
Psalm: Psalm 89:26-38
The focus today is on Joseph, son of David (v. 20). He was "a righteous man" (v. 19), meaning he was committed to keeping the Jewish law. How was he to honour that obligation once he discovered the truth about Mary?
Mary was ‘betrothed’ to Joseph. Betrothal was a much stronger idea in Judaism then than the English ‘engaged’ suggests now. Betrothal entailed a woman giving her consent to marry a man. From that point on, they were deemed husband and wife. There was however a short gap in time before the husband took his wife to his home and consummated the relationship.
Joseph found Mary to be pregnant in the gap between betrothal and his taking her home. Surely she had been unfaithful? (The reader is told Mary’s pregnancy was "from the Holy Spirit", but Joseph knew nothing of this.) The law was clear: Mary must be publicly named and shamed, and stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:20-21, 23-27).
There was, however, more to Joseph’s righteousness than strict adherence to the law. He was compassionate to Mary. He was clear that the betrothal must be negated. Could that not be done ‘quietly’? He could issue a certificate of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1).
God’s revelation to Joseph (in a dream, through an angel – familiar Jewish ideas at the time) honoured Joseph’s search for integrity and mercy. God made it plain to him that Mary was not an adulteress. He should conclude the legal process of marriage by taking his wife to his home. Joseph too was part of God’s plan. He is commissioned to name the child ‘Jesus’ (meaning ‘God is salvation’). Through his obedience, Joseph is the one through whom Jesus is authentically a son of David. He also honours God and the Holy Spirit by allowing the miracle of Jesus’s conception to come to its full conclusion before he takes up the normal prerogative of marriage, having sex with his wife.
- ‘Justice and mercy’. What examples matter a lot to you today, where the strict application of law could helpfully be tempered by mercy? Have you discussed your issues with other members of your congregation? What can you do together to make a difference?
- What aspects of the roles of husband and father, in contemporary society, make you want to applaud or to be critical?