St. Joseph as our Spiritual Model
This homily is on the 4th Sunday of Advent from December 22, 2019. Here is a link to the readings.
Our Gospel today is a different version of the conception of Jesus that, unlike the more familiar version in the Gospel of Luke, tells the story from the perspective of Joseph. However, the verses just prior to this passage may be helpful in setting the stage. Matthew goes through the genealogy of Jesus from father to son beginning with Abraham, until he gets to Joseph. The passage says Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah.
Jesus is named the son of Mary, but not of Joseph. We’re told that Mary was found with child through the Holy Spirit. However, Joseph doesn’t necessarily know this. The Gospel states only that Mary was found with child so it’s not apparent who told Joseph she was pregnant. In Matthew’s account, Mary doesn’t appear to tell Joseph how she became pregnant either. Perhaps she didn’t think he’d believe her. Perhaps she knew that only God could help Joseph begin to understand so great a mystery.
Either way, Joseph had a difficult decision to make. The Gospel tells us Joseph was a righteous man. He wanted to follow the Law of God. In this case, Mary being pregnant must have meant she was unfaithful to Joseph. Since they were betrothed, this was considered the same as adultery. And the penalty for adultery could be as severe as stoning to death. Yet, the Gospel tells us that Joseph didn’t want to expose her to shame. While he was righteous, it is obvious he was also compassionate. He didn’t wish Mary’s death or dishonor. In Jewish law, a man could break the betrothal contract in the presence of witnesses but was not required to give a reason. By “divorcing her quietly”, Joseph would not have to reveal what would be perceived as infidelity.
It is an angel in a dream that reveals to Joseph the true nature of Jesus’ conception. Joseph must have had great faith and trust in God. After awaking from the dream, Joseph does as the angel instructs and takes Mary into his home. This act is the sealing of the marriage contract. By taking Mary into his home, she became Joseph’s wife. Furthermore, taking her in meant that he would consider Jesus his son by adoption.
Joseph is a bit of an enigmatic figure in the Scriptures. We know very little about him. He is mentioned in detail only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Further, the Gospels never quoted anything he had said. He speaks only through his actions. However, one thing we do know about Joseph was that he was a “righteous man”. What does it mean to be righteous? The dictionary defines righteousness as “the quality of being morally right or justifiable”. Perhaps another passage from Scripture can shed more light on this definition. In Genesis, Chapter 15, Abram laments to God that he has no children. God promises Abram he will have a child and that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Abram had faith in God and that was credited to him as an “act of righteousness”. Therefore, righteousness can be seen as having faith and trusting in God.
So what does this mean for us? Many of us see Mary as the perfect model of faith, and this is rightly so. Mary has much to teach us about how to be humble and focused on God. However, Joseph can also provide us an excellent model on how to live our lives. First, we know he was a compassionate man. In wanting to divorce Mary quietly, he was more concerned with the welfare of an individual than the letter of the law. This was despite that, as a righteous man, he strove to follow the Law.
Also, we know Joseph was righteous, following the Will of God. On several occasions he didn’t hesitate to act when God’s Will was clear to him. Not only did he take Mary into his home on the direction of an angel, he moved his family to a foreign country when prompted by God over Jesus’ safety. Then, again prompted by God, Joseph moves his family back to the Holy Land but settles in a completely new location, not knowing anyone there. How many of us have the faith to head into unknown situations without hesitation?
Additionally, Joseph is a model of humility. He shows us that we need not be well known in the world to do great things. Joseph was focused on taking care of his family. He made sure his pregnant wife had someplace to stay to have her child, even if it was a stable. He kept his family safe from those that wanted to harm them. He taught his son a trade and raised him to be a great man. Joseph did great things simply by living his life trying to do God’s will.
Joseph’s quiet example of compassion, righteousness, and humility can be an inspiration to us all. Let us ask for his intercession as try to be more like him. St. Joseph, pray that we too will listen for the voice of God in our lives. Pray that we may trust in God as fully you did when taking Mary into your home. May your humility, compassion, and example as a spouse and parent help us to grow closer to your adopted son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.