Friday, December 18, 2015

What We Can Learn from Joseph, Jesus' Stepfather

Scripture tells is relatively little about Joseph, but he tells us a lot about scripture. His actions, and interactions with God, illustrate a number of principles that run throughout scripture. Let’s look at Matthew 1 and Luke 2, rearranged in chronological order, to see those principles.  Scriptural text is in black, and the comments are in blue.
18 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. 20 Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. 21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, 
 and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. 25 He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
1.    Joseph must have been very upset, and full of emotions, before he had this vision.  But he controlled those emotions, rather than being controlled by them. He was therefore a wise man. See Proverbs 14:17, Proverbs 14:29, Proverbs 15:18, Proverbs 16:32, Proverbs 17:9, Proverbs 19:11, Proverbs 20:3, Proverbs 25:28, Proverbs 29:8, Proverbs 29:11, Sirach 1:23-24, Sirach 27:7-28:7, Matthew 5:9, Matthew 5:22, Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 4:26-27. That trait apparently ran in Joseph’s family. 1 Samuel 25:18-42, James 1:19-20.
2.           Joseph initially made the wrong decision (to divorce Mary)
-   Even godly, righteous, folks make mistakes. Psalm 37:23-24,  Proverbs 24:16
-       That is why we must extend grace to each other
3.             God still used Joseph, in spite of his initial mistake.
-   Joseph was in a position to be used by God because he was open to God’s correction.  See Proverbs 9:8, Proverbs 10:17, Proverbs 19:20, Proverbs 25:12. This trait also seemed to run in Joseph’s family. 1 Samuel 25:18-42, James 1:19-20.
-   In fact, God turned Joseph’s mistake to the good, in a Romans 8:28 manner, by capturing it in scripture and using it as a teaching tool.
4.             Joseph was confronted with a radical change from what he likely expected, regardless of how he responded to the situation.  He followed God’s call, and his life became infinitely more significant.  That looks like saving his life by losing it, as his foster son would latter put it. See Luke 9:23-24, Matthew 10:37-39. See also John 12:24-25. 
 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
5.             Joseph essentially became homeless.
-     He was in a new city in a new state with no support system and no place to stay.
-     And it happened at a very inopportune time.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. 10 The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 14“Glory to God in the highest
 and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. 18 All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. 19 And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
6.  God provided encouragement in the midst of difficult circumstances.  See 1 Corinthians 10:13.
7.    That encouragement came from folks that society as a whole had little respect for.
-     We have to be open to them, and not be blinded by social norms, or we miss the blessing. See Sirach 11:1-4, James 2:1-9. 
21 When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
8.    Joseph was faithful to the mission/instructions God gave him months ago (see Matthew 1:21 above), in spite of having been thrust into great difficulty, changed circumstances, and uncertainty.  He maintained focus over time and in spite of greatly changed circumstances.  That sounds like what Jesus described in Luke 12:35-45.
22 When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” 24 and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
9.      Joseph saw to the ordinary things, even in the midst of his extraordinary circumstances.
-   His faithfulness in performing this ordinary task was a step in starting Jesus’ ritually perfect life, enabling Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
-   Extraordinary things can result from our ordinary acts of faithfulness. 2 Kings 4:42-44,  Matthew 13:31-33, John 6:1-13.
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. 27 He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, 28 he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:29 “Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word, 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
 and glory for your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
10.    Joseph’s faithfulness in the ordinary things resulted in he and Mary receiving great encouragement at a time when they were likely experiencing doubt/uncertainty because of their tough circumstances.
- God dispenses extraordinary graces through ordinary                  means.
34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted 35 (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. 38 And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
11.  As was the case with the shepherds, God uses a messenger that by prevailing social norms must have been considered less than normal. We must be open to that dynamic—and those folks—to receive all that God has for us. Sirach 11:1-4, James 2:1-9.   
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
 who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
12. Seeing to the work God gives us to sometimes requires/results in our being unaware of/oblivious to things that are quite consuming for society as a whole.
-      There is no indication that Joseph was aware of or concerned about the popular concern described in v. 4.  
-  That made Joseph unsophisticated by popular standards, when in fact he was perfectly responding to the true reality. 1 Corinthians 1:18-28.
-       We can’t be distracted/deterred from doing God’s work by popular culture/concerns. Romans 12:2
Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 11 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
13.    God provided for Joseph and his family in a way that Joseph could not possibly have expected, or fully appreciated.
-       The Magi’s gifts not only met immediate needs, but also provisioned Joseph’s family for events that Joseph did not know were on the horizon (the not yet revealed trip to Egypt).
-       Indeed, those gifts may have made Joseph more open to the additional upheaval of going to Egypt.
-       God has a pattern of doing this for folks He has called to particular tasks. See Ruth 2-4,  1 Kings 3:4-16, 1 Kings 17:1-16, 2 Kings 4:1-7, 2 Kings 8:1-6.  Jesus discussed that dynamic in Matthew 6:19-33. 
13 When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” 14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. 15 He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
 and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.”
19 When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. 23 He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazorean.”
14.    The return to Israel required Joseph to once again a very scary step. Israel then was not a very stable/safe place, and that chaos/danger reached into Galilee. See P. Jenkins, The Year Jesus was Born. It would seem that Joseph was called to leave the relative peace of Egypt to return to a very volatile region to further God’s plan of salvation. We see this dynamic throughout scripture. See e.g. Genesis 12:1-9, Matthew 10:1-16, Matthew 14:22-33,  
39 When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
41 Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, 42 and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. 43 After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, 47 and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
15.   As in point 2 above, Joseph made a mistake, and as in point 3 above, God turned it to the good by recording it in scripture so we could learn from the incident.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Non-Catholic’s Take on Today’s Catholic Readings: Lectionary 506—Dealing with difficulty
Bold = verse commented upon
Blue = comment
Highlight = direct command
Today’s readings give us some insights into dealing with the trouble that inevitably comes into our lives:
1.        Don’t be surprised by it. Jesus told us to expect it, a dynamic that Peter also discussed. John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12-13. 
2.    Although God does not exempt His faithful ones from the troubles of the world, He does help them through those troubles if they trustingly and faithfully cling to Him. See Sirach 2.
3.    One way get through the emotional upheavals that those troubles inevitably cause, even in God’s faithful ones, is to talk to God. We see that dynamic over and over again in the Scriptures. See e.g. Numbers 11:10-15, 21-22; Judges 6:13-16;  Acts 9:10-19 Praising God in the midst of the troubles is particularly helpful.  See e.g. Daniel 3:52-90. It calms you. Try it, you’ll see.
4.        Another way to deal with those troubles is to see them in the broader context of God’s overall plan. The individual calamities Jesus describes in the Gospel reading might make no sense as folks go through each of them, but seen in the context of God’s overall plan, they do make sense. See also Hebrews 12:1-13. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us see the broader context of the troubles that come up in our lives. See James 1:2-6 and Hebrews 4:14-16.
Some men rushed into the upper chamber of Daniel’s home and found him praying and pleading before his God. Then they went to remind the king about the prohibition: “Did you not decree, O king, that no one is to address a petition to god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king; otherwise he shall be cast into a den of lions?” The king answered them, “The decree is absolute, irrevocable under the Mede and Persian law.”
To this they replied, “Daniel, the Jewish exile, has paid no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you issued; three times a day he offers his prayer.”
The king was deeply grieved at this news and he made up his mind to save Daniel; he worked till sunset to rescue him. But these men insisted. They said, “Keep in mind, O king, that under the Mede and Persian law every royal prohibition or decree is irrevocable.” So the king ordered Daniel to be brought and cast into the lions’ den. To Daniel he said, “May your God, whom you serve so constantly, save you.” To forestall any tampering, the king sealed with his own ring and the rings of the lords the stone that had been brought to block the opening of the den.
Then the king returned to his palace for the night; he refused to eat and he dismissed the entertainers. Since sleep was impossible for him, the king rose very early the next morning and hastened to the lions’ den. As he drew near, he cried out to Daniel sorrowfully, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has the God whom you serve so constantly been able to save you from the lions?”
Daniel answered the king: “O king, live forever!  My God has sent his angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not hurt me. For I have been found innocent before him; neither to you have I done any harm, O king!”
This gave the king great joy. At his order Daniel was removed from the den,
unhurt because he trusted in his God. The king then ordered the men who had accused Daniel, along with their children and their wives, to be cast into the lions’ den. Before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.
Then King Darius wrote to the nations and peoples of every language, wherever they dwell on the earth: “All peace to you! I decree that throughout my royal domain the God of Daniel is to be reverenced and feared: “For he is the living God, enduring forever; his Kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be without end. He is a deliverer and savior, working signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, and he delivered Daniel from the lions’ power.”
R. (59b) Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Dew and rain, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Frost and chill, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Ice and snow, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Nights and days, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Light and darkness, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Let the earth bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.
Jesus said to his disciples: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,
know that its desolation is at hand. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. Let those within the city escape from it, and let those in the countryside not enter the city, for these days are the time of punishment when all the Scriptures are fulfilled. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth and a wrathful judgment upon this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”