December 19, 2010
Reflection on the Gospel Reading
Sunday’s Gospel passage sets the stage for the Nativity. Its focus is Saint Joseph, and his vocation as the foster-father of Jesus. Consider Joseph’s vocation in light of the two names by which his foster-child is described here: Jesus and Emmanuel.
The name “Jesus” means “God saves”, while “Emmanuel” means “God with us”. Taken together they dispel two contrary beliefs: that God will save us only from a distance; and that God comes into our midst only to condemn us. Instead, these two names together confirm that God is with us in order to save us.
In Joseph’s dream, the angel of the Lord commands two things of Joseph. The first is not to be afraid to take Mary… into [his] home. The second is to name [Mary’s son] Jesus. Both of these commands imply acceptance. Generally, they imply acceptance of God’s providential Will. Specifically, they imply acceptance of Mary and Jesus as his own. In spite of the apparent shame caused by Mary—because she accepted God’s Will at the Annunciation—God calls Joseph to protect Mary as her husband, and to stand with her in accepting with patience the unfolding of God’s Providence.
In spite of Mary’s apparent betrayal of her betrothal to Joseph, God calls Joseph to name Mary’s son. This act itself, independent of the name Joseph would give the child, is significant. This act had legal significance in the culture of Joseph, and by this act, Joseph would have been claiming the child as his own. With this claim, Joseph undoubtedly would have invited shame upon himself, as many would have seen this act as an admission that he had fathered a child outside of a fully ratified marriage.
Part of the irony of this passage, then, is that Mary and Joseph, by their submission to God’s providential Will, foreshadow the life of Jesus. Mary and Joseph are scorned and cast aside as sinners precisely because of their faithfulness to what God wants to accomplish in Christ. Jesus will not only be rejected as a sinner on Calvary: in the words of Saint Paul, He will be made sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him [2 Corinthians 5:21].