18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.
General Observations on the Text
The Matthean Literary Context
In verse 16 of the previous literary unit, Matthew hinted to his readers the unnaturalness of the birth of Jesus. Matthew did not use the expected x is the father of y formula or Joseph is the father of Jesus. Thus, for Matthew, Jesus was not born in the same manner that the other members of his ancestry were born (cf. Dec 17 commentary). In this gospel pericope (vv.18-25) Matthew is set to explain how the supra-natural circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth happened.
In this pericope, Joseph is the central image or the main character in the narrative. It is his struggle, his dream, his decision as well as his acceptance of a role in life he never thought of.
Will the Real Joseph Stand?
Joseph had his own personal plans and visions in his life. He, like any other ordinary Jew, planned to have his own family, probably, with a good number of children, the sons of which will be heirs of his trade–carpentry, his righteousness and everything that he is. All these he envisioned having Mary as his lifetime partner. Mary, is already reserved for him, they were engaged. The whole Jewish society considered them to be legally married. What was just lacking for the realization of his personal plans was the final rite of the Jewish matrimony–the procession, in which he will fetch Mary from her father’s house and bring her to his own. When was this final rite to occur, we are not told, but surely Joseph was looking forward with eagerness to the beginning of his new life with Mary as his wife.
Suddenly, things changed, all his plans were held in abeyance. Mary, her legal wife, was discovered to be pregnant. Whatever were the circumstances surrounding the unexpected pregnancy of Mary – there are provisions in the Torah (Deut 22:23-27):
- 23If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. You shall purge the evil from your midst.
- But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die; you shall not do anything to the young woman, the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of somebody who attacks and murders a neighbor. Since, he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help but there was no one to rescue her.
Joseph was a righteous Jew. He had to follow the prescriptions of the Torah–to divorce Mary because she was already defiled. At its worst, he could have exposed her to the torah’s stiffest prescriptions with the probability of her being stoned to death. However, there was something different in Joseph’s righteousness in relation to the law–it was tempered with mercy “not wishing to expose her to the law decided to set her free secretly” (v.19).
The Divine Plan
Beyond Joseph’s personal plans, was an unknown divine intention. He was to be part of God’s greatest design and gracious desire to re-claim humanity through Jesus Christ. And this was revealed to him in a dream. He was asked by God if it were possible for him let go of his dreams, his personal plans and say yes to God’s proposal–not to fear and, to take Mary as his wife, despite her seeming unworthiness, for even Mary is part of God’s design.
The Joseph of the Gospel
The silence of Joseph is astounding. There is no word heard from him. However, his silence is not apathetic; it is neither non-committal, nor non involvement; it is not a silence characterized by the mere absence of words and emptiness of content. In the most sacred of all silences, Joseph realized that his personal plans and dreams were no match to God’s grand design for him: God made him realize his royal Davidic descent–Joseph, son of David (v.21); God commissioned him to give a name to his would be son-–a name which determines his son’s destiny Jesus, the one to save the people from their sin (v.21). All these are not a product of an overnight change of the mind of God–these were forecasted long ago by the prophet Isaiah:
A virgin shall conceive a child and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Immanuel.
In silence Joseph had to make his personal decision, he is challenged to take a role more than he thought of, he is to let go of his own dreams and visions and take a road paved for him by God. And this he did – Awaking from sleep, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him…(v.24).
Points for Homily
1. The silence of Joseph is made manifest in his obedience to God, letting go of what is so personal and accepting God’s challenge that effect greater good for others.
2. God has always the best reserved plan for each and everyone of us. One needs to discover God’s will for him and one simply has to be courageous to accept God’s challenge. He who accepts God’s challenge achieves the greatest joy, highest contentment and authentic happiness.