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Matthew 1:18-25                                               


MATTHEW’S BIRTH NARRATIVE –with the opening of Matthew’s narrative section we are privy to several things: (1) Mary and Joseph are engaged—they are legally considered husband and wife so that unfaithfulness would be considered adultery and would result in death or dissolution; (2) Mary is pregnant—we know the pregnancy is connected with divine activity, but Joseph is in the dark; (3) Joseph has somehow become aware of the pregnancy—apparently Matthew’s readers would not have known Luke’s or John’s 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.

MATTHEW’S IMPLICATIONS FOR US – this birth story through Matthew’s 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 Matthew’s Gospel, as a model of what Matthew hopes for all disciples—indeed, 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 God’s commandments and the new thing that God is doing in Jesus. [1]



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, we’re left with either correctness or compassion?



The bullets which follow may offer some new idea to think about as you build this Sunday’s final Advent homily.

How does Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus differ from that of Luke’s? What slant do we see coming from Matthew’s pen? What characters are given prominence? What characters are absent from Matthew’s Christmas story?

What do we know about Joseph from Matthew’s 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;
  • Joseph’s 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 Mary’s eyes, Joseph’s action—even though generous and compassionate—would have devastating consequences for Mary and her baby. The pregnancy wouldn’t 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 woman’s social status and value depended almost entirely upon her standing within a man’s house. Her child would have no father in a society in which the father’s name meant identity.

[1] The Interpreter’s Bible (New York: Abingdon/Cokesbury Press, 1954), Mt. 1:18-25