Author Topic: Reflections on Joseph  (Read 2334 times)

Richard Johnson

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Reflections on Joseph
« on: December 18, 2004, 01:17:42 PM »
Reflections on Joseph
(An On-line Forum Letter article)
Joseph generally gets short shrift in the Christmas narrative, even in Year A when on Advent 4 he has more than a walk-on role. The story as Matthew tells it is an enigma to us; we can't find much more than amusement at this old fellow whose girl, he thinks, done him wrong, but finally an angel gets him into the loop and he acquiesces to playl his part.

The so-called church fathers often had a different spin. They tended to think that Joseph knew right up front, as the story opens, just what had happened. After all, Matthew opens the story by assuring us that Mary was "found to be with child from the Holy Spirit"--an odd expression, to be sure, and one which surely allows us to think that Joseph knew this, even before his dream.

What does it mean that he was "unwilling to expose her to public disgrace?" The Greek text there is perhaps not quite that explicit, and could be read more like "unwilling to make a show of her"--and a show it would be, if people found out she was with child by the Holy Spirit! In this reading, Joseph's plan was simply to step out of the picture in hopes that people wouldn't take too much notice of Mary.

The angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Why would he be afraid? Maybe this isn't a fear of disgrace and scandal, but something quite different. As a righteous man, Joseph, if he knew that this child was from the Holy Spirit, could draw only one conclusion: Mary belongs to God, Mary has been possessed by the Holy One. And if that is so, then I must stand off. I must not touch her. It was a holy fear that Joseph felt.

"We are to fear and love God," so we are taught. I'm not sure we ever completely learn it, we moderns who feel good about God as cosmic buddy. The Bible says that people who really confront God find it a fearsome thing. It's the kind of fear that Luther felt in saying his first mass. To touch holy things, to draw near to holy things--this leaves a person quaking.

Olov Hartmann put it this way: "How can a man have God in the house and not be afraid?" Imagine what it was like for Joseph, after all this had been resolved and he and Mary settled in to await the birth. To know that there, within his wife, was a child, but more than a child--there, within her, next to him on the bed, was God. "How can a man have God in the house and not be afraid?"

And if Joseph could look at the young Mary and know that God was within her, is it not something of the same thing with us? Is not God with us, within us, and within all those with whom we live? Do we not have to open our eyes and see the holiness in common things--in our spouse, our children, our neighbors, those we encounter each day, each of whom, in their way, bear Christ to us?

Joseph surely was afraid. He knew the nearness of God in the commonest of things. He surely was afraid, but his fear gave way to wonder and amazement at the promise of Emmanuel, God with us. And so must it for all who wait and watch for the Babe of Bethlehem.

roj

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« Last Edit: February 12, 2005, 02:11:06 PM by roj »
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2004, 06:20:03 PM »
Quote
What does it mean that he was "unwilling to expose her to public disgrace?" The Greek text there is perhaps not quite that explicit, and could be read more like "unwilling to make a show of her"--and a show it would be, if people found out she was with child by the Holy Spirit! In this reading, Joseph's plan was simply to step out of the picture in hopes that people wouldn't take too much notice of Mary.


If the Greek word were deiknymi I would agree with you about "unwilling to make a show of her". However the verb used is deigmatizo, which one Greek lexicon defines as "to cause someone to suffer public disgrace or shame" (Lowe & Nida). Another one defines it as:  "expose, make an example of, disgrace" (DBAG).

I would think that the most likely source of disgrace to Mary (and Joseph for that matter) was that Mary was pregnant before they had "come together."

Another possibility is if they were to check out her story that she was a still a virgin, that would probably be a shameful examination.

(Did you have any doubts that I would comment on the Greek?  :))

It's only other use in the NT is in Col 2:15 where NRSV translate it as "make an example of".
"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]

Richard Johnson

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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2004, 12:10:07 PM »
Quote


If the Greek word were deiknymi I would agree with you about "unwilling to make a show of her". However the verb used is deigmatizo, which one Greek lexicon defines as "to cause someone to suffer public disgrace or shame" (Lowe & Nida). Another one defines it as: "expose, make an example of, disgrace" (DBAG).



"This is a rare word meaning 'to exhibit,' 'to make public,' 'to bring to public notice,' esp. that whgich seeks concealment, so that it almost has the sense of 'to expose.'" TDNT

"Deigmatizo" is not an insurmountable obstacle. Indeed, the widespread meaing, 'embarras,' 'expose to contempt,' fits the first interpretation better [i.e., that Joseph didn't want to disgrace Mary], but deigmatizo could also mean 'investigate,' or, neutrally, 'make public.'" Ulrich Luz, "Matthew 1-7: A Commentary."

As I said, there is a tendency in patristic sources, and later Catholic sources, to downplay the "scandal" aspect and point rather to a sense of "arousing public notice." Of course the patristic writers didn't have the benefit of 20th century lexicons. The point is not that this approach is necessarily correct, but that there is an alternative way to read it which might at least with some justification be entertained for homiletical purposes.

The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2004, 12:48:28 PM »
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The point is not that this approach is necessarily correct, but that there is an alternative way to read it which might at least with some justification be entertained for homiletical purposes.


True. I have often said in my "Gospel Notes," that what one might preach from a text may not always be the best exegesis -- but still be a fitting proclamation of the gospel.

According to Dt 22:20-21, if a new bride is found not be a virgin, she could be stoned to death in front of her father's house.

While nothing is said about that in the text, it could be possible that publicly revealing Mary's pregnancy before their "marriage," could have been proof to stone-throwers that she was not a virgin. Joseph's quietness could be seen as concern for this young girl. That may not be the best exegesis, but was part of my sermon.
"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]

Steven Tibbetts

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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2004, 09:14:35 PM »
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Of course the patristic writers didn't have the benefit of 20th century lexicons.


My thought, Richard, was how typical for a 21st century ELCA pastor to correct the Church Fathers' understanding of Greek. ::)

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« Last Edit: December 19, 2004, 09:15:09 PM by przip »
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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2004, 07:57:29 AM »
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My thought, Richard, was how typical for a 21st century ELCA pastor to correct the Church Fathers' understanding of Greek.  

I'm not sure that I would call Richard Johnson a "Church Father" -- even with his Ph.D. in Church History.  :)

I believe that there was a tendency of the Church Fathers to elevate Mary (the immaculate conception, the assumption) to levels that most 21st century ELCA pastors would not fully accept.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2004, 09:19:18 PM by roj »
"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]

Brian Hughes

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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2004, 07:39:02 AM »

   Spent most of last Sunday's sermon highlighting what happens  to children in this culture when raised in families without fathers.  Probably sounded more like a father's day sermon, but not really.  Joseph gets left out of most of the Christmas story.  So do most step fathers.  Yet what a powerful role they can play in blended familes.  Anyway,  Joseph; the forgotten parent in the blended family called Holy.  Amazing response; adult children of broken families crying, children crying ... including one young man who locked himself in the men's room until one of our men, a lay pastor, talked him out.  Seems said young man lost his father last year.  Lay pastor and young man cried together and ... it's my hope a new bond was formed.  

 Yes, truly amazing what can happen when we focus on supporting and affirming families ... imagine what might happen if we focused resources on that effort and not gay sexuality?  Yeah, stupid me, this is the ELCA after all and if things were different they wouldn't be the way they are....

Brian
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Steven Tibbetts

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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2004, 11:15:54 AM »
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I'm not sure that I would call Richard Johnson a "Church Father" -- even with his Ph.D. in Church History. :)


It might help, Brian, to read what Richard wrote with the same scrupulosity that you claim to exegete the Scriptures.  Particularly his first two paragraphs.

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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #8 on: December 21, 2004, 03:33:05 PM »
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It might help, Brian, to read what Richard wrote with the same scrupulosity that you claim to exegete the Scriptures.  Particularly his first two paragraphs.

Naw, that would take the fun out of conversing with my neighbor, Richard.

My critique was with the interpretation of one Greek word, which, as far as I've been able to tell, is not used by the Church Fathers in reference to Mary.
"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]

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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2005, 04:48:23 AM »
Brian H. said:
"Yes, truly amazing what can happen when we focus on supporting and affirming families ... imagine what might happen if we focused resources on that effort and not gay sexuality?  Yeah, stupid me, this is the ELCA after all and if things were different they wouldn't be the way they are.... "

Are you suggesting that gay people don't have families?  Gay people ARE fathers, and mothers, they're also sons, daughters, sisters and brothers.  Look at this story again.  Even Jesus' earthly family wasn't what many try to call "traditional" today.  We've got a teenage mother pregnant before she was married, a scared dad,  and extended family all living and working together.   I also wonder why everyone is so eager to try and highlight the man in this story.  Don't get me wrong, I think it's interesting to try and figure out where Joseph fits in the story but this is one of the few stories in the Bible where a woman actually is written in a lead role, can't we just celebrate that?  

The message I get from this story is that ALL families are valuable and it is NOT our (human's) job to judge what kinds of families are acceptable and which are not.  Maybe next advent you can preach about tolerance and the value of all families.  Families with and without Dads, families with and without Moms, families where grandparents or aunts and uncles are the parents, foster families, adoptive families, chosen families, and gay families are all a part of the larger family of God.   Maybe this sermon will produce tears of joy, instead of sorrow.  Joy that they've finally found a church that embraces all of God's family instead of shaming and persecuting those that don't quite fit.  (deigmatizo?)

You can write me off as just another crazy liberal, but before you do just take a minute to think about the people in your congregations and your communities whose families, spirituality, and existence are either shunned or ignored by the church everyday.

An ELCA church member.
(the fact that I have to post this anonymously speaks volumes about the welcome of the ELCA)

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Re: Reflections on Joseph
« Reply #10 on: January 06, 2005, 03:29:47 PM »
 
Quote
You can write me off as just another crazy liberal, but before you do just take a minute to think about the people in your congregations and your communities whose families, spirituality, and existence are either shunned or ignored by the church everyday.


Oh puleeze.  You've got to be kidding.  Are you living in the 1950s?  Every church in the world is filled with broken people, and broken families.  Such is the byproduct of sin, and it affects us all.  The question isn't whether or not broken people should be welcomed into the church (they should, and are -- the church is God's hospital) but rather whether or not the church should have standards of any kind at all.

How about a 'family' of ten mothers?  Should we 'celebrate' that as a wonderful thing, as if it were indistinguishable in desirability from one man one woman?

BTW, safe to say, that Mary and Joseph didn't do anything which was not in keeping with a traditional and Biblical understanding of marriage and family.  So to compare that situation with modern man's failed relationships and personal problems, is an invalid comparison.

DH