Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Joseph the role model
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.