Joseph, the Righteous Dreamer

Matthew 1:18-24

I’ve always thought that Joseph got shortchanged in the Gospel, and in the church’s devotional life. Mary gets so much attention, and rightly so, but Joseph doesn’t even get a speaking part! Unlike Mary’s Annunciation, Joseph’s Annunciation that we heard last week doesn’t get a lot of notice. But his “yes” to the angel is no less courageous and faith-filled than hers. Just imagine all the feelings that any guy would feel, if his new fiancé came to him announcing that she was pregnant with a child that he knew was not his. Just imagine! Betrayal, outrage, hurt, embarrassment, grief, fear are just a few I can think of.

Yes. I’m sure Joseph felt all of those things. It’s clear though that he loved Mary deeply because he did NOT do what the law gave him the right to do. He could have called her out, made her shame public and she would have been stoned to death. But he had decided to keep this a private matter to save her honor and her life. That’s real love and compassion.

And then he had a dream. Again, imagine if this had happened to you. Imagine that an angel told you in a dream that your spouse had NOT been unfaithful, that the child was conceived through the Holy Spirit and that you should take her into your home and name the child (as was the responsibility of the father) “Jesus.” Just imagine! How would you feel? Disbelief? Wonder? Relief? Amazement? Confusion?

What does Joseph’s response say about the kind of man he was? “When he awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took her into his home.” Joseph must have been so open and connected to God to have believed what was told to him in dreams and to believe it was God’s messenger that gave him those words! It’s true that those were very different times and there was a much greater acceptance of “supernatural” experiences and belief in God’s intervention in everyday life. Still, Joseph, as protector of his family, was asked to take on several challenging and risky tasks and did so in complete faith and trust in God! Would any of us have done the same? HAVE we ever done something like that? Perhaps some of us have.

Here’s what Pope Francis said about Joseph in his homily at Mass on St. Joseph’s Feast Day 2013 celebrating his election as Pope:

“How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus. How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own.”

It’s no surprise that this is the kind of man who raised a boy as his own son given the way Jesus turned out! Often we think of Mary as being responsible for raising Jesus, but clearly he also followed in Joseph’s footsteps – with unfailing presence and utter fidelity, constantly attentive to God, open to signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans.

So in these last moments of Advent, let’s each of us reflect on how we might live more faithfully as Joseph did, and so be able to better incarnate Emmanuel, God-with-us, in our world so desperately in need of the Divine Light we hold within us.

“Joseph’s Dream” by Rembrandt, 1645

December 12, 2022 by Anita Davidson 1 Comment
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William H. Utz
William H. Utz
1 year ago

Thanks for this reflection. As an adult male and father, Ive often wondered about Joseph—who he was and what role he played in Jesus development. Perhaps Jesus` image of God was shaped as much by the way Joseph related to him as by his understanding of Judaism. The unconditional love of a father (and mother) is direct, emotional, visceral. The knowledge of Scripture and commentary is more intellectual. Regardless, I appreciate that you opened a new window into the Jesus story and gave me something nourishing to chew on this Christmas holiday. Peace!


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