Friday, March 18, 2016

"JOSEPH DECIDED TO DIVORCE HER QUIETLY."


Homily for March 19th, 2016: Matthew 1:18-25.

Luke’s gospel tells us that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that God wanted her to be the mother of God’s son, Gabriel also told her that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, though far beyond child-bearing age, was also, as they say in England, “in a family way” – six months pregnant, in fact. With typical generosity, Mary decides to go and visit Elizabeth. She couldn’t start right away. It was a man’s world. A woman, especially a young teenager like Mary, could not travel alone. She must have at least one chaperone.

Organizing that took time. Since the whole purpose of the visit was to help with the birth of Elizabeth’s son, Mary was away from home for some months. By the time she got back to Nazareth, she was visibly pregnant. A film I saw a few years ago – I think it was called The Birth of the Messiah – shows Mary’s encounter with Joseph after her months’ long absence. The look on his face is unforgettable.

          According to the law of that day, an unmarried woman who got pregnant could be stoned for bringing shame on her family. Though Mary had been unfaithful to him, Joseph still loved her and did not want to be responsible for her death. Rather than bringing public charges, Joseph decided simply to break off the engagement quietly.

Then something unexpected happens. An angel visits Joseph in a dream and tells him: the baby growing in Mary’s womb has no human father. He is God’s Son, the anointed Servant of the Lord, the Messiah, whose coming Israel’s prophets have predicted for centuries. Then Joseph wakes up and realizes it was only a dream.

Or was it only a dream, Joseph wonders? Suppose it’s true? With great courage, and almost super-human faith, Joseph decides to go ahead with his longed planned marriage. For the rest of his life, whenever Joseph had doubts or second thoughts about the life he had chosen, all he had to go on was the memory of a dream when he was only a teenager.

          Friends, we too have staked our lives on a dream: that God exists; that he is a God of love and of justice; that he has called us, as he called Joseph, to be friends and  servants for Mary, and sisters and brothers of her Son, Jesus.