Author Topic: So what about Joseph?  (Read 8006 times)

Richard Johnson

  • ALPB Administrator
  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 10382
  • Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    • View Profile
So what about Joseph?
« on: December 16, 2010, 09:02:51 PM »
So what should we think about Joseph? Modern commentators like to wonder how he really felt when he learned that young Mary was pregnant, and he knew he wasn't the daddy. They go through efforts to explain why he decided to "dismiss" or "divorce" her quietly--efforts that often don't really make Old Joe look all that good to modern eyes. The usual explanation is that he didn't really get it until the angel appeared to him in a dream.

Commentators in the early church had a quite different view. They often noted that Matthew tells us Mary was "found to be with child from the Holy Spirit." Found by whom? Well, by Joseph--which suggests he already got it that the babe in her womb was from the Holy Spoirit. So why did he plan to dismiss her, being a righteous man? Keep in mind that in Jewish culture "righteous" means above all "God fearing"--not primarily "ethical and moral." A God-fearing man might assume that since Mary's child is of God, Mary herself belongs to God, and the best thing for him to do is to quietly step out of the picture.

This makes sense of why the angel says "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife." He's afraid, not because of scandal or disgrace, but because of God. As Olov Hartmann put it, "How can a man have God in the house and not be afraid?" Joseph's stepping back from Mary, or his intent to do so, is akin to Moses taking off his shoes. You just don't presume on God.

Of course it has a happy ending, as Joseph comes to accept "God in the house"--God there in his bed, in the belly of his bride who is beside him. After all, they call his name Emmanuel, "God with us."
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

Harvey_Mozolak

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 4685
    • View Profile
    • line and letter lettuce
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2010, 09:13:24 PM »
Thanks for these thoughts.  Harvey Mozolak
Harvey S. Mozolak
my poetry blog is listed below:

http://lineandletterlettuce.blogspot.com

Harvey_Mozolak

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 4685
    • View Profile
    • line and letter lettuce
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2010, 09:26:31 PM »
Sometimes I think Joseph must have been a softie.  My son, the artist, does our Christmas card art each year but I usually suggest the theme or subject matter and I think it was last year that I had him do a happy Joseph (no Mary, sheep, straw or camels) holding high the child and giving him a kiss.  I could have stoned your Mom or have been zapped by your Father!  I used to be quite careful in naming Joseph as the guardian of our Lord but he must have been a wonderful adoptive Father (as I am not necessarily wonderful but an adoptive one.)  Harvey Mozolak
Harvey S. Mozolak
my poetry blog is listed below:

http://lineandletterlettuce.blogspot.com

iowakatie1981

  • Guest
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2010, 10:03:49 PM »
Thanks, Richard.  An RC friend introduced me to this very perspective earlier this summer, and in fact, I had been re-pondering it this week in preparation for this Sunday's sermon.  My friend enjoys linking this typologically to King David who was also afraid to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem...  Thoughts on that angle?

Rev. Kevin Scheuller

  • Guest
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2010, 12:10:00 AM »
Yes, thanks Richard.  That ancient take puts a "new" spin on the fear that bothered Joseph.  It's interesting to note that the screenwriter of "The Nativity Story" has Joseph ponder in conversation with Mary while they're trekking from Nazareth to Bethlehem, "how am I going to be able to teach him anything?"  I'm not sure whether that is the exact verbiage, I'm going to have to watch it again.  It is a beautiful rendering of the story.  

I do believe that the screenwriter of "The Nativity Story" also has Joseph assume that Mary committed adultery, but portrays him in a very sympathetic, selfless light. 

Of course, my favorite rendering of a school Nativity play has to be the one found in the movie, "Simon Birch."  In the movie, Simon tells the kid who gets chosen to play Joseph (after the kid seems very proud to be chosen for the role) "Why would you be proud of playing Joseph?  She's the Virgin Mary - Joseph doesn't do anything."  Of course, that's not even close to being the funniest part.  I don't want to put any spoilers here in case there are a few of you whose curiosity is peaked, but it really has a lot for pastors and laypeople alike to appreciate.  Especially if you've known a control freak Nativity play director or two in your day - "Simon Birch" is a must see. 
« Last Edit: December 17, 2010, 12:19:32 AM by Rev. Kevin Scheuller »

Harvey_Mozolak

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 4685
    • View Profile
    • line and letter lettuce
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2010, 07:02:39 AM »
(deleted)
« Last Edit: December 28, 2010, 07:59:51 AM by Harvey_Mozolak »
Harvey S. Mozolak
my poetry blog is listed below:

http://lineandletterlettuce.blogspot.com

BrotherBoris

  • Guest
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2010, 08:08:46 AM »
I thought you all might like some commentary on how the Eastern Orthodox view Joseph, especially his reaction when he discovers the Mother of God is pregnant.  Here are a few selections from some of the hymns that we sing on Christmas Eve during the Royal Hours.  There is an interesting dialogue in these hymns between St.  Joseph and the Theotokos.  Tell me what you think.

At first Joseph is shocked and scandalized:
 
 Joseph said to the Virgin:
 What has happened to you, O Mary?
 I am troubled; What can I say to you?
 Doubt clouds my mind; Depart from me!
 What has happened to you, O Mary?
 Instead of honor, you bring me shame!
 Instead of joy, you fill me with grief!
 Men who praised me will blame me!
 I cannot bear condemnation from every side!
 I received you, a pure Virgin, in the sight of the Lord.
 What is this that I now see!


Then Joseph begins to understand what is happening:

Tell us, O Joseph!
Why do you bring a maiden great with child to Bethlehem?
"I have searched the prophets," he said.
"I have been instructed by an angel."
"I am convinced that Mary will give birth to God,
 in a manner beyond understanding."
"Wise men from the East will come to worship Him,
offering precious gifts in adoration."
O Lord, incarnate for us, glory to Thee!


Then, finally, the Theotokos addresses St. Joseph and explains the birth to him:

When Joseph went up to Bethlehem,
His heart was filled with sadness.
But you cried out to him, O Virgin:
"Why are you so troubled?"
"Why are you in misery seeing me with child?"
"Do you not understand at all?"
"I bear a fearful mystery!"
"Cast away your fears and learn a strange wonder:"
"God in His mercy descends from heaven to earth!"
"Within my womb He has taken flesh!"
"When He is pleased to be born, you will see Him!"
"You will rejoice and worship Him, your Creator!"
The angles ceaselessly praise Him in song,
Glorifying Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit!



 

Harvey_Mozolak

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 4685
    • View Profile
    • line and letter lettuce
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2010, 08:36:55 AM »
Boris,

Thanks.

And I will guess that your hymn texts are older than most, if not all, of ours.

and I thought the biology was nine months or so, but your song sings:

"When He is pleased to be born..."

None of us conceives of ourselves before we are womb-bound by parents, yet God conceives of pleasing us at his good pleasure in the Christ of Theotokos.

Harvey Mozolak
Harvey S. Mozolak
my poetry blog is listed below:

http://lineandletterlettuce.blogspot.com

mariemeyer

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 4316
    • View Profile
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2010, 09:20:19 AM »
This thread offers me a thoughtful way fo begin the day. 

Might I copy comments for the men of our congregation who meet at 6 am on Wednesdays for Bible Study?  I think they might appreciate pondering the role of Jospeh in the Incarnation. the week before Christmas.


Brian Stoffregen

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 42853
  • ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν
    • View Profile
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #9 on: December 17, 2010, 11:14:25 AM »
Keep in mind that in Jewish culture "righteous" means above all "God fearing"--not primarily "ethical and moral." A God-fearing man might assume that since Mary's child is of God, Mary herself belongs to God, and the best thing for him to do is to quietly step out of the picture.

Kind of, δίκαιος (and also the Hebrew צדק) primarilly mean, "what is right". It is used in commerce for a "right" or "just" weight. It is conduct that corresponds to a proper standard. For religious people, "what is right" is defined by God or God's laws or being in the proper relationship. For others, it means being moral, upright, ethical.

Keener (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew) notes: "Jewish, Greek, and Roman law all demanded that a man divorce his wife if she were guilty of adultery. . . . Mediterranean society viewed with contempt the weakness of a man who let his love for his wife outweigh his appropriate honor in repudiating her" (p. 91). Divorcing pregnant Mary was the right thing for Joseph to do.

Other commentaries suggest that releasing Mary from the engagement was the right thing to do because it would then allow the real father of the child to marry her and raise his child.

I see Joseph, like Ahaz in the First Reading from Isaiah 7:10-16, as men who had made up their minds about "what is right" and God has to intervene to show them that they were wrong.

« Last Edit: December 17, 2010, 11:41:04 AM by Brian Stoffregen »
"The church had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

LCMS87

  • Guest
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #10 on: December 17, 2010, 11:33:20 AM »
Let's see, "Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem.  And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done" (2 Kings 16:2),  versus, "And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly" (Matthew 1:19).  

And then also, "Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 'Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.'  But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test' " (Isaiah 7:10-12), versus, "When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife" (Matthew 1:24).

It's hard for me to see unrighteous Ahaz, who refuses to do as the Lord asks, as being like just Joseph, who does as the angel of the Lord commands.  Joseph's intention was according to the law.  Ahaz's, not so much.  Alike?  Seems more like opposite.      


« Last Edit: December 17, 2010, 11:37:10 AM by LCMS87 »

Brian Stoffregen

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 42853
  • ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν
    • View Profile
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #11 on: December 17, 2010, 11:43:45 AM »
Let's see, "Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem.  And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done" (2 Kings 16:2),  versus, "And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly" (Matthew 1:19).  

And then also, "Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 'Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.'  But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test' " (Isaiah 7:10-12), versus, "When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife" (Matthew 1:24).

It's hard for me to see unrighteous Ahaz, who refuses to do as the Lord asks, as being like just Joseph, who does as the angel of the Lord commands.  Joseph's intention was according to the law.  Ahaz's, not so much.  Alike?  Seems more like opposite.

God was able to change Joseph from what he believed was the right thing to do -- namely, to divorce Mary. God was not able to change Ahaz from what he believed was the right thing to do -- namely to form an alliance with Assyria against Israel and Syria.

It may be that the greater miracle in Matthew 1 is not the virginal conception, but that a man who was convinced he was right, had his mind changed.
"The church had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Virgil

  • Guest
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #12 on: December 17, 2010, 11:47:22 AM »
From the Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, re Icon of the Nativity, in which Joseph sits off to the side dejectedly:

"Another detail emphasises that in the Nativity of Christ 'the order of nature is vanquished'--this is Joseph. He is not part of the central group of the Child and His Mother; he is not the father and is emphatically separated from this group. Before him, under the guise of an old and bent shepherd, stands the devil tempting him. On some icons he is represented with small horns or a short tail. The presence of the devil and his role of tempter acquires a particularly deep meaning in connection with this 'feast of re-creation'. Here, on the basis of tradition, the icon transmits the meaning of certain liturgic texts, which speak of the doubts of Joseph and the troubled state of his soul. This state is expressed in the icon by his dejected attitude and is emphasised by the black mouth of the cave, which sometimes serves as a background to his figure. Tradition, transmitted also by the apocrypha, relates how the devil tempted Joseph telling him that a virgin birth is not possible, being opposed to the laws of nature. This argument, assuming different forms, keeps on reappearing through the whole history of the Church. It is the basis of many heresies. In the person of Joseph the icon discloses not only his personal drama, but the drama of all mankind--the difficulty of accepting that which is "beyond words or reason"--the incarnation of God."

kls

  • Guest
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #13 on: December 17, 2010, 11:52:22 AM »
It may be that the greater miracle in Matthew 1 is not the virginal conception, but that a man who was convinced he was right, had his mind changed.

Wow . . . just, wow.  ::)  Any chance of getting another one of those miracles where you're concerned?   ;)

LCMS87

  • Guest
Re: So what about Joseph?
« Reply #14 on: December 17, 2010, 12:02:31 PM »
God was able to change Joseph from what he believed was the right thing to do -- namely, to divorce Mary. God was not able to change Ahaz from what he believed was the right thing to do -- namely to form an alliance with Assyria against Israel and Syria.

Right, Joseph's proposed action was based on trust in God and his word.  Ahaz's on unbelief.  And did you really say God was not able?  Lk. 1:37 and Jn. 3:10.  Far better to say Ahaz was adamant in his rebellion against the Lord and his word even when God sent him a prophet to call him to repentance.  


It may be that the greater miracle in Matthew 1 is not the virginal conception, but that a man who was convinced he was right, had his mind changed.

It's sort of a silly point, but let's see, in the history of the world how many virgin births?  One.  And how many minds changed?  "A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages . . ." (Rev. 7:9), all the redeemed of the Lord.  I think I'll go with the incarnation of the Lord in the womb of a virgin as the greater miracle, if only because it is completely unique.    




« Last Edit: December 17, 2010, 12:44:00 PM by LCMS87 »