MATTHEWS BIRTH NARRATIVE with the opening of Matthews
narrative section we are privy to several things: (1) Mary and Joseph are
engagedthey are legally considered husband and wife so that unfaithfulness would be
considered adultery and would result in death or dissolution; (2) Mary is pregnantwe
know the pregnancy is connected with divine activity, but Joseph is in the dark; (3)
Joseph has somehow become aware of the pregnancyapparently Matthews readers
would not have known Lukes or Johns birth narrative. Joseph is faced with
actions appropriate to such an unwanted pregnancy; (4) Joseph does the totally unexpected
for typical "righteous" people when faced with what he was faced with. He
decides to break rank from the letter of the law out of sensitivity and love for Mary.
MATTHEWS IMPLICATIONS FOR US this birth story through Matthews pen
probably comes closest to our own quandaries. As NIB comments, "
We want to do the right thing, and
we believe that somehow it is revealed in the Bible. We may belong to a church that claims
to accept the Bible as the norm for its faith and practice and, yet, sense that the
Christian thing to do does not follow the letter of the Bible . . . as Jewish
Christians who had always reverenced the Law, they sometimes found themselves torn between
strict adherence to the letter of the Torah and the supreme demand of love to which their
new faith called them . . . thus Joseph stands, at the beginning of Matthews Gospel,
as a model of what Matthew hopes for all disciplesindeed, for each reader of the
Gospel. Joseph is already facing the
"you-have-heard-that-it-was-said-but-I-say-to-you tension . . . .between the
prevailing understanding of Gods commandments and the new thing that God is doing in
When have you seen compassion and theological correctness in
collision? How have you navigated through such difficult issues?
Can you recall a specific issue facing the Church today that when push comes to shove,
were left with either correctness or compassion?
The bullets which follow may offer some new idea to think about
as you build this Sundays final Advent homily.
How does Matthews version of the birth of Jesus differ from that of Lukes?
What slant do we see coming from Matthews pen? What characters are given prominence?
What characters are absent from Matthews Christmas story?
What do we know about Joseph from Matthews telling of the gospel story?
- Joseph was a high-principled man;
- Joseph was also compassionate and wanted to shield Mary from scandal;
- Joseph decides to seek a "no contest" divorce;
- Joseph seeks an out-of-court settlement to problem;
- Josephs mind is only changed by a dream from God;
- Joseph is obedient to the advice given in the dream; the decision to divorce is set
aside and he now plans to see Mary through this entire ordeal; he takes her as his wife
and together they face her unusual and highly suspect pregnancy and upcoming birth;
- Joseph has no sexual intimacy with Mary until this child is delivered;
- He obediently names his child by the name given in the dream;
Joseph could have insisted on a public trial of Mary on the charges of adultery; this
could have even resulted in her death. Instead he chooses to dissolve the marriage
contract "quietly" because he is a righteous man. Seen through Marys eyes,
Josephs actioneven though generous and compassionatewould have
devastating consequences for Mary and her baby. The pregnancy wouldnt go away by
Joseph putting light years between himself and Mary; Mary would still have to come to full
term with or without a father. She would give birth without a husband in a society in
which a womans social status and value depended almost entirely upon her standing
within a mans house. Her child would have no father in a society in which the
fathers name meant identity.
The Interpreters Bible (New York:
Abingdon/Cokesbury Press, 1954), Mt. 1:18-25