Gospel for Dec 18, 2016 Mt 1: 18–24
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
Context of the text:
- Luke focuses on God’s revelation to Mary; Matthew focuses on the revelation to Joseph transmitting principles of Christian ethics and emphasizing that Jesus’ birth fulfils scripture.
- Betrothal was much more serious than our modern practice of “engagement”: it left the survivor of the man’s death a widow, and if both partners lived it could be ended only by divorce.
- Jewish and Roman law both demanded that a man divorce his wife if she were guilty of adultery. Roman law actually treated a husband who failed to divorce an unfaithful wife as a panderer exploiting his wife as a prostitute (Gardner 1986:131-32; Richlin 1981:227).
- Joseph was righteous not because he was divorcing Mary; rather, Joseph was righteous for divorcing Mary quietly (privately), for not bringing unnecessary shame on her.
- Joseph values commitment to God above his own honor. When God reveals the truth to Joseph, he immediately believes and obeys God’s will, unbelievable as the truth would seem without a deep trust in God’s power. Because Joseph married Mary, outsiders would assume that he had gotten Mary pregnant before the wedding. By failing to provide the bloody sheet that would prove Mary’s virginity on the wedding night (Deut 22:15; Ketubot 1:1, sections 7-8; Eickelman 1989:174), Mary and Joseph chose to embrace shame to preserve the sanctity of God’s call.
Thoughts to ponder on:
- God with us: Jesus is truly God and also fully human. Matthew invites us to consider and worship the God who accepted the ultimate vulnerability, born as an infant to poor and humiliated parents into a world hostile to his presence.