Poor Joseph, husband of Mary and earthly step-dad to the son of God. Even today, his situation seems awkward, what with God placing a baby directly in the womb of his wife-to-be.
It had to be embarrassing for him. We can tell from the first chapter of Matthew, where we find an account of how Jesus’ birth came about.
When Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, he initially planned “to dismiss her quietly,” knowing he had not touched her in anything resembling an intimate way, but assuming some other man had.
And even after an angel told him the child was the direct work of the Holy Spirit, the circumstances still had to be embarrassing. People would have noticed Mary’s pregnancy was out of sync with her marriage to Joseph.
The gossip mongers would have speculated on some ugly possibilities: Maybe Mary was in love with some village boy. Maybe she was raped by a Roman soldier. Maybe Joseph couldn’t control himself until the wedding night.
Joseph doesn’t need our pity, however. People face such quandaries from time to time, situations where what is right before God may not look right before the world. We should all hope to handle such dilemmas as well as Joseph.
Matthew describes Joseph as a “righteous” man, but we can miss just how righteous he was. He proved himself to have the kind of righteousness Jesus would talk about as an adult, a “Sermon on the Mount” kind of goodness about him.
That righteousness was in Joseph even before the angel came to him in a dream. You would think that a man who believed he had been made a cuckold would lash out. It’s surprising he didn’t embarrass Mary and her family, and perhaps even demand serious punishment for what was a crime in their society.
Yes, as a righteous Jew, Joseph would have known the Jewish law and how it worked to his advantage. But he also seems to have understood that the root of the law is love. Thus, the plan to dismiss her quietly.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ teachings that occurred more than three decades later. He would begin a lesson with, “You have heard that it was said,” and finish by demonstrating how the law actually calls us to sacrificial levels of love for God and neighbor.
And that superbly righteous behavior continued after the angel came. Having awakened from his dream, Joseph leaped into immediate action.
He took Mary as his wife, and proceeded to follow God’s instructions. He obediently let God use him as a trustworthy tool, one capable of keeping the Christ child out of the reach of murderous kings.
In Joseph, we see a righteous and obedient man for every age, a model for those who would follow God regardless of what the world thinks.
Lord, thank you for the remnants of righteousness, the ones who were able to take part in your great plan to save humanity from sin. Amen.