Now 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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his -wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25, NRSV)
In the daily lectionary, today is designated as the Commemoration of Joseph, Guardian of Jesus. The first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew gives us a portrait of Joseph as a devout and pious Jew descended from the line of David. Engaged to Mary, he finds himself in a quandary. His betrothed has returned from a visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth’s home “in a family way.” Since the marriage contract had not been concluded (i.e. they had not lived together as husband and wife) Joseph had the “right” according to the law to expose Mary to public disgrace since he knew that he was not the father of the child. Instead, he decided to quietly divorce her which only required that he present a letter of divorce to Mary in front of two witnesses. Simple as that! No lawyers, no haggling over assets, who gets the dog, the china, or the Cuisinart.
Wait, in the Bible things aren't always that simple, especially when God singles you out for a particular mission (Moses did his darndest to get God to choose someone else, David broke so many of God's commandments on his journey to fullfill God's plan, etc.). With the assurance from the angel, Joseph did what was "right" -- he remained with Mary, completed the marriage contract and took on the role of father to the divine Christ Child.
With a few exceptions, Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Joseph’s life with Jesus. What we do know is that Joseph went with Mary to Bethlehem and was there when Jesus was born. Joseph presented the infant in the temple in accordance with Jewish law. When the angel told Joseph that Herod was looking to kill the child, he packed up the family and fled to Egypt and then brought them safely back when the angel gave the all clear. Joseph took the family to the Temple every year for the festival of the Passover. During one such trip, when Jesus was 12, he stayed behind in the Temple (without telling his parents, of course) talking with the rabbis and asking them questions causing his parents, Mary and Joseph, "much anxiety." The only other reference to Joseph is that he was a carpenter and the head of a large household.
It is generally believed that Joseph died sometime between the incident at the Temple and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Joseph is not mentioned as being present for Jesus' first miracle (turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana) but Mary is an integral part of the event. We know that Joseph must have been dead by the time of Jesus’ crucifixion because Jesus commended the care of his mother to John, the disciple whom he loved. If Joseph were alive, Jesus would not have had to do this.
A man of lesser courage and faith might have insisted on exercising his “right” under the law to follow through with the divorce even after the angel had appeared to him. Instead, Joseph did what was “right” - raising Jesus as any loving father would. In Joseph we have an example of doing what is “right” – being gracious, kind, compassionate, merciful, and fulfilling God’s plan for our lives versus exercising our “right” to act in accordance with the laws of society. We should remember the example of Joseph when we are faced with doing “right” instead doing what is our “right.”
Lord, may the witness of the life of Joseph serve as a reminder to us to "seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God." Amen
In His love,