A Righteous Man
When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. Mt 1: 18-19
Based on religious law Joseph was free to excuse himself from his engagement to Mary. As God’s messenger frees him from fear of scandal he moves from the sleep of religious legalism into moral righteousness.
Mary’s pregnancy appears to be a scandal. Joseph’s intention to divorce her quietly avoided the “trial” that would expose how Mary conceived. Such a trial was to prove if the bride was unfaithful or raped. Either outcome permitted the groom to legally excuse himself from the betrothal contract. This would be traumatizing and embarrassing. Joseph’s quiet divorce with no trial is the gentlest legal way of excusing himself.
But this leaves Mary in a real jam.
What is her future in that culture? Because of stigma no one else will want to marry her. She will have to live with her parents and when they die, she will be without support. Men may pressure her for sex since she already gave in once. Her child will have no inheritance either, no dad to follow and learn from.
Pondering all these things Joseph is open to a poke from God’s messenger. The poke awakens Joseph to what is most important here. Religious law is meant to teach and form a community to embody God’s justice on earth. But laws are generalizations for which we can usually find excuses. Using law to avoid justice is legalism. Joseph moves from legalism into righteousness.
A young man once shared that he had thought about priesthood for years. I invited him to take a step forward, get a spiritual director and visit the seminary. He said he was waiting for sign from God.
I said: the church, like Mary, is pregnant but lacks the kind of men that will enable the flourishing of her potential life. There’s your sign. I am still hoping for his reply.
Joseph is the kind of man that rises above excuses and into compassion. With compassion examine your most frequent excuses. Then with courage take action to restore what avoidance has deprived you and the church of. This is how we take Mary and Jesus into our home.
By Mark Blom, OMI – Vocation Director of OMI Lacombe Canada
Feel free to contact Fr. Mark for advice about discernment and vocation direction. He can meet with you by phone to conduct a short vocation assessment to help you find your way. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for an appointment.