Yesterday, we considered the news proclaimed in the Annunciation to both Mary and Joseph as an unprecedented event in human history. We came to a deeper appreciation of the heroic faith of Mary and Joseph. However, in this consideration, we skipped over a monumental detail. Namely, after Mary broke the news, but before God sent an angel to speak to Joseph in his dream, there was a serious dilemma to discern.
Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19)
At first glance, this phrase from Scripture makes little sense. It seems to contradict itself, in that a just man would choose divorce. If Joseph understood the baby to be from God, then he should naturally conclude that Mary had no shame. But Joseph was living in a different era and culture than today. According to the Mosaic Law, if a woman who was married or betrothed was found guilty of an adulterous affair, she would be taken outside the city gates and stoned to death (Deuteronomy 2:23). Even though he did not fully understand the situation at this point in time, having Mary stoned to death was not a viable option for Joseph. Therefore, he decided to “divorce her quietly,” so that no one would know he was not responsible for this pregnancy. Instead, Joseph accepted that, over time, the town would have noticed that Mary was pregnant and assumed the baby was Joseph’s. Mary would have been safe from stoning, but the people of Nazareth would have assumed that Joseph selfishly and dishonorably left Mary and her child on their own to fend for themselves.
Joseph was willing to take this apparent “shame” of Mary upon his own shoulders. Risking his reputation, Joseph once again pointed to Christ. Jesus became the victim of the greatest injustice in all of humanity. Indeed, it was our shame that he took upon his shoulders when he carried his cross to Calvary. Christ was willing to be ridiculed and convicted of a crime he did not commit so that we may be set free.
Christ taught us that his actions reflected those of the Father (John 5:19). While Jesus was referring to God the Father, it is apparent that his heavenly father chose for his son an earthly father who taught him mercy and sacrifice as well.
Ponder the limitless mercy of God in your own life and, in turn, how merciful you are to others. Once you receive the mercy of God, you are called to be an instrument of that mercy to the world. If you are married, ask St. Joseph to teach you how to be merciful to your bride, just as he was to Mary. St. Joseph was placed in a seemingly impossible situation, and yet he still chose mercy. Why? How? The explanation for Joseph’s courageous and noble actions is humility, which is precisely why we began this book with that virtue. St. Joseph understood that it’s not about himself. He understood that his life was an offering for others, and that you only truly find yourself when you give yourself away. St. Joseph was already living the Christian way of mercy before Christianity even existed. He was a herald to a new Way.
Heavenly Father, shower your mercy upon me, so that I may be a man like St. Joseph and offer my life in sacrifice for others.
St. Joseph – unveil for me the love of the Holy Spirit present in my spouse. Amen.