Today, I helped an elderly British lady at church figure out how to turn on the defroster on her new car. She’d driven to church with the windows down.
And in church, I had some thoughts.
The Gospel reading today was the one in which Joseph is visited by the angel (Matthew 1:18-25) and for the first time, considered the wording. Now, I’m aware things get lost in translation and changed along the way. I understand that, by not reading in and having extremely limited understanding of the original languages, I lose much.
And yet… verse nineteen reads, “Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” The phrases, “A righteous man,” and, “unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,” jumped at me as never before.
Because I know the Old Testament and that stoning was a legitimate consequence for adultery, which is what would have been said of Mary. But here, we are told that Joseph was RIGHTEOUS because he didn’t want to follow the law, because he wanted to be kind, because he LOVED.
The soon-to-be-retired Episcopalian Bishop I heard today was preaching about how the overarching theme of the Bible is God’s desire for connection with humanity – a loves story of perfect, unending, impenetrable love. And today, this verse that I’ve never much thought of before hit me hard because it means so much. It means that, as much as we as a body of faith talk about Mary (my background is not of venerating her highly, nor of her immaculate conception, but simply of thinking of her as “a highly favored lady), Joseph – a man to whom Jesus had no biological connection, if we take the Bible as truth – was a man who didn’t believe in the harshness of his culture’s laws, a person who peacefully protested, and a guy who just wanted to get on with his life, but gave it all up to be there in a bizarre situation.
And that “righteous?” It might just nullify the whole argument that Jehovah meant for all of those harsh punishments to be carried out. (Or it could just mean that Matthew was as big a fan of dismantling the old covenant as anyone and wanted to show the people with whom he was sharing his version of the the story that even Jesus’s own father was cool with it. Humanity’s role in the writing of the Bible fascinates me.)