He could have sent her away. He could have turned her in to the elders. Surely they would have known what to do with her. She could have been stoned, for those were the days and those were the rules. And unfortunately in some societies they still are. He would have had every right to do so, because the child his fiancee was expecting wasn’t his. He could have, but he didn’t, because Joseph, as the story tells us, was a righteous man. He wanted to divorce her in silence.
It took me quite some time before I got the point in this line. It’s not about the leaving part, it’s about the in silence. Joseph doesn’t want to publicly shame Mary, and by doing so he seems to turn his back on tradition. But does he? Not really. He rather shifts his focus on another part of tradition. Not the tradition of harsh laws and rules and the many thou-shalt-nots, but that other tradition of mercy and benevolence. The tradition of protecting the weak, the widows, the orphans and the strangers, of bruised reeds not broken, smoldering wicks not quenched. A tradition only living in the hearts of those still pure and bold and foolish enough to remember a promise once made and now, hundreds of years later, still waiting for it to come true.
It is in this tradition that we should place the man Joseph. And looking closely, I think no better man could have been found to become Mary’s husband and to father the child she carries. For they are so alike. Like Joseph, Mary is equally rooted in this tradition of hope and redemption.
Furthermore, in both of them we find another trait that links them to this tradition. Like many before him, Joseph is familiar with the dreaming of dreams, and not just any dreams, but the special ones that convey messages. Like several of his forefathers, who, in their days, heard voices from clouds and burning bushes, who were spoken to by angels, Joseph is also visited by an angel telling him not to send Mary away. And although it is almost impossible for the human mind to understand what is at stake here, Joseph accepts the angel’s message just like Mary had done a few months earlier.
We so often think that people are being chosen because somehow they must be very special. But that is not quite how it works, for everyone is chosen. Everyone at some point in his or her life receives a calling, a message from an angel, a dream, a sign or signal. Special are those however, who are open hearted and open minded enough to listen and to willingly give in, although it is indeed impossible for the human mind to comprehend the vastness and depth of the whole scheme of things.
Mary and Joseph are all to often portrayed as a young girl betrothed to an older, rather dull man. Not quite the sexy, romantic catch a sixteen year old might hope for. But was that really the case? And moreover, does it matter? Looking at who these two really, basically were, what they stood for in matters of faith and spirituality, they must have been perfect for each other and for the task they were called for.
I dare to assume that theirs was not a passive, subservient ‘yes’ but rather a meditated step towards a new future. A huge leap of faith because as of yet no one could foresee where this was all going. Right there and then all kinds of lines and forces collided. A people worn out by long endured oppression, messianic expectations wherever you looked, new philosophies and ideas on the move. In short the Zeitgeist. Add to this the personal traits of Mary and Joseph, their willingness to set aside their own interests in favour of the greater good, their openness to visions of renewal and liberation, their unshakable trust that the age old promise of salvation will soon be fulfilled.
It is exactly this attitude of sincere openness, of courage and wonder and spiritual resilience, that makes them so very suitable to parent the child that will come to change the world for good and that will – almost literally – throw a new light on things by his very presence.
Next blog to be expected on the 24th of december