This is the third in a series of reflections on Matthew 1:16-25.
…she was found to be with child. – Matthew 1:18
We don’t know how Mary was “found out.” Luke’s Gospel doesn’t help us either because there are no encounters between Mary and Joseph pre-census, before their trip to Jerusalem. We assume that Mary was pregnant when she went to go visit Elizabeth (Luke 1:42). If this is the case, she was probably visibly pregnant when she returned home three months later (Luke 1:56) – although you can probably hide a lot in 1st century women’s wear. We don’t know if her family found her out – or if it happened in a public way. And we don’t know how Joseph finds out about this scandalous pregnancy.
But he does.
Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. – Matthew 1:19 (NRSV)
It was within Joseph’s rights to end their engagement: Mary had committed adultery. It was also within his rights to shame her publicly (Deut. 22:20-21). The Greek word in 1:19 translated as “to expose her to public disgrace” is a literal translation. The only other place this word is used in the New Testament is in Hebrews 6:6 referring to Jesus’ public humiliation and death on the cross.
But Joseph decides not to wield his rights but to yield them – and he does so again by not having sexual relations with Mary until after Jesus is born. Because Joseph is a righteous man, he plans to dismiss Mary quietly. “Righteous” and “just” are often interchanged in the New Testament translations. Joseph is a righteous man, a just man, but his chosen action is mercy.
I mentioned before in Advent Reflections: Joseph, the Husband of Mary that Joseph doesn’t have a voice in Scripture. I wonder if Joseph was a quiet man. But whether he was a man of few words or many, he was certainly a man of action.
- Joseph didn’t need to speak to show that he was a righteous man – he chose to release Mary quietly.
- Joseph didn’t need to speak to show his faithfulness – he simply did as God commanded and took Mary to be his wife.
- Joseph didn’t need to speak to show his care for his family – he got up during the night to take them to Egypt, not even waiting for first light (Matt. 2:14).
- Joseph didn’t need words to speak to show his role of protector of his family – he bypassed Judea and went to Nazareth to find a safe place to settle down (Matt. 2:22-23).
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 (NIV)
Advent and Christmas are a season of remembering and celebrating the incarnation. St. Francis of Assisi said, “preach the gospel at all times…use words if necessary,” and Joseph does just that. Joseph, often forgotten, is a good example of what incarnate faith and obedience look like. Joseph demonstrates what God asks: act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
Which speaks louder in telling the story of our faith: words or actions? And what story do they tell?