GOSPEL FOR TODAY: MATTHEW 1:18-24. Find it in your Bible, or Missal, or click here.
‘This is how Jesus Christ came to be born.’ (Matthew 1:18)
Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus is so different from Luke’s, and for a reason. Matthew wrote his Gospel primarily for those new Christians who had been Jews, and were now followers of Jesus, the Christ/ the Messiah. For them, Matthew began his Gospel with a long, stylised, genealogy of Jesus, from Father Abraham right down to Joseph, the husband of Mary. Matthew wants to establish for them, from the very start, that Jesus of Nazareth was rightly called ‘son of David’. This title was his, through the naming by Joseph, who was husband of Mary. Let’s see how this works out, in this Gospel for the final Sunday before Christmas.
Did you ever eavesdrop on parents trying to decide what name to give their new-born child? Maybe you’ve been there yourself, discussing different names, even before the child arrives. “Well, if it’s a boy, we’ll call him _____________or ____________: and if it’s a girl, we’ll definitely call her ______________”
Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth, did it first (in Luke’s Gospel Ch.1:59-63). He asked for a writing table and wrote ‘His name is John’ (later the Baptizer). He named the child.
Joseph, of the line of David, (in Matthew’s Gospel) was told to do the same for the child to be born of Mary: ‘you must name him JESUS/ Yeshua or Joshua, meaning the One Who Saves His People.’ Mary did the carrying and the birthing: Joseph did the naming. In Jewish custom and law, the final decision was with the husband and father regarding the naming, and the child took his/her lineage from the father’s line. So, Jesus is known as Son of David, through the naming by Joseph.
Joseph was a young man, probably about the same age as his new wife, in his late teens or early twenties.
Joseph gets the highest praise given to a Jewish man,- ‘ a man of honour’.
Joseph is decisive. ‘He had made up his mind…(to divorce her quietly)’. He knew that she could be stoned to death in that society of the time, if found to be with child before wedlock. Joseph ‘had made up his mind’ to very quietly and discretely divorce her.
Joseph listens to his dreams. ‘The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream’. Reminds us of the earlier Joseph, the Dreamer, who was taken off into Egypt, and later cared for God’s people there. We have another dreamer, here,- and he is one who listened to what God was saying, what messages were being given, through his dreams.
Joseph listens to the ‘messenger of the Lord’,- the Greek word ‘angelos’ means ‘messenger’, in this case ‘messenger of the Lord’. This ‘messenger of the Lord’ makes clear a few things: a) the child to be born was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit: b) Mary will give birth to a son. c) Joseph must use his privilege and exercise his own Jewish social role, by giving the name to the child. D) and the name is clear, it is ‘Jeshua’ or ‘Jesus’, meaning the One Who Saves His People from their Sins’.
Joseph, the dreamer, woke up, and he did what the messenger of the Lord had told him to do,- he took Mary home as his wife.
Joseph names the child: And Jesus is called ‘son of David’, because Joseph, a son of David’s line, named him!
Good listener, this Joseph! Like Mary, totally obedient to whatever God wanted. (Did you know that the word ‘obedience’ comes from two Latin words,- ob and audire, the first indicating a leaning forward or towards, the second meaning to listen… leaning forward and bending to listen really eagerly! Like being eager to hear every word the other person is saying , out of love for that person. )
Both Joseph and Mary leaned forward to hear what God was saying to them and asking of them. You could call it ‘hanging on God’s every word’! And each of the two was prompt in doing what was asked of her or him.
Then Matthew, for his Jewish readers among the early disciples of this Jesus, recalls (as he does very often through his Gospel) a saying from their Scriptures (and now ours), in this case from the Prophet Isaiah, about the maiden conceiving, and giving birth to a son who will be called ‘Immanuel’ – Immanu-El- God with Us.
So that’s our JOSEPH, the husband of Mary, the often-forgotten one in the whole story, the one often sidelined. Not today! Not for Matthew! Not for his Jewish listeners and readers!
Joseph, son of David, husband of Mary, has his moment in the sun.
And he has been restored to our Eucharistic Prayers, after the mention of Mary, when we remember ‘Joseph, her husband’.
Fr. Seamus Devitt C.Ss.R. email@example.com.