Scripture: Matthew 1:19
Reflection: Joseph is a known figure in the Advent season, especially at the scene of the nativity. Usually he is thought of as having a minimal role. In scripture we are offered very little about Joseph. In a Jewish context his full character is all wrapped up into two words “righteous man.” With pointed accuracy, the writer of Matthew uses the same description for Joseph as that used to describe Abraham’s faithfulness, the father of the great nation Israel. The highest priority for a Jewish male in that time was to follow God’s law and to father a first-born son. According to the law, Joseph and Mary were already legally married while engaged. That is why this verse has the term husband. Because Mary was pregnant, not by Joseph, the law offered her death for adultery. Joseph certainly knows God’s law and is ready to faithfully follow that law. Also, this pregnancy denies him the fulfillment of fathering a first-born son. In this dilemma, Joseph decides not to announce to all that Mary is pregnant by someone else and contemplates how to divorce her quietly in the shadows, away from the public eye.
In this one verse we learn about Joseph’s character by these descriptive words and his behavior. He is the first person, in the first gospel, making a decision to follow the law but thinking of doing so a little differently. Looking on from the outside of the story, he seems to find himself between the law of God and the love of Mary. Looking on from the outside of the whole Gospel of Matthew, Joseph seems to be previewing a change in the character “righteous” as going beyond the Old Testament law of obedience to conforming to Jesus’ teaching and behavior. Jesus said many times in Matthew, “You have heard it said in ancient times… But I tell you….” Joseph is the first New Testament character we encounter to model this new character of being righteous. Jesus also said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20)
Maybe like me you are beginning to see and hear something different about Joseph’s character description of being “righteous.” His role is a lot bigger than we usually give him credit. This season, when you hear Joseph’s name in the story or see his figure in a nativity scene, will you think of what it means to be “righteous?”
Prayer: Dear God. Thank you for Joseph and his example of righteous behavior. Help me follow with similar practices as I learn to be a follower of Jesus. Amen.
Author: Michael Aycock, Operations Director
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[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].