Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Joseph the role model

We don't often hear the nativity story from Joseph's point of view, but the birth of Jesus and the events surrounding it must have involved huge emotional upheaval : fear, doubt, anxiety, anguish and joy must have been felt by him as well as Mary.  Joseph was chosen to parent Christ, just as Mary was, and I think it is well worth looking at what sort of man he was.
Perhaps the most revealing comment about Joseph is that he was an upright man, but not upright in the sense of wishing to condemn others. Doubtless the first news of Mary's pregnancy was an enormous blow to him - what must he have felt? Shock, disbelief, anger, grief, jealousy, humiliation all spring to mind. I think it is so telling that Joseph's main concern, in spite of all these  undoubted emotions, was for Mary's welfare. Had he wanted to take revenge, or to make a point, or to bolster up his wounded pride, then the society  he lived in, where a disgraced woman was cruelly vulnerable, would have offered him ample opportunity.

Instead Joseph seems to have quickly decided that he would  put Mary away quietly and not expose her to public disgrace. Where else did Jesus learn his tenderness for women who faced disgrace, shame and  condemnation other than from his earthly father, someone who was chosen as the kind of male  role model God had in mind?

Fortunately we do not live in a society which stones women to death, but I do not think we live in a society which particularly respects women. I do not think we live in a society which is tender towards those who find themselves in difficult situations, are vulnerable or easily singled out. You only have to watch our reality TV shows to know you only need to scratch the surface to find that contempt and the desire to ridicule and humiliate others, when society tells us we are free to do so, is alive and kicking. Moreover we do not live in a society which holds up an image to men that tenderness, gentleness and respect are strengths, too often the message they receive is that these are weaknesses.

What Joseph gave was largely unseen, he must have had his worries, doubts and private anguish. He is often an unsung hero, not really a central figure in the story. But to Mary and to Jesus, Joseph was very much centre stage, he was a key player and he was undoubtedly a bit of a hero! So, perhaps one of his messages is that our  unseen contributions are deeply valued, not by a shallow public, but by those who  really count - and by God.

That is why I think that we should think more about Joseph's story, and, like Jesus, have the humility to learn from  his example.

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