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​Love stories in need of salvation

· Meditation ·

Matthew 1:18-24

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this [...]”.

Bose Workshop, “St Joseph” (Byzantine style icon, egg tempera)

God enters human history, which is not without negativity and nudity, to reawaken life and to return to paths of fertility. Matthew’s account reminds us of this. The genealogy presented just before our passage contains history in a series of generations, which, after a long list, ends with the bursting in of something new: “Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ”. The reader is informed that what has been conceived is by the Holy Spirit, but Joseph does not know this, he must walk by himself and he finds himself alone, facing an unexpected, undesired event which changes his life.

In the face of this unexpected pregnancy of Mary who is betrothed to him, the law required him to denounce his wife publicly, but his heart forbade him to do so and he decided instead to divorce her secretly. He then reacts to this dramatic event by assimilating it and showing his justice: Joseph, it is said, is a just man. And this being just means first of all being human. The just man is one who reflects something of God’s own justice and God is never an executor of sentences. The judging God is always involved in the events of his people, he suffers, he is in sympathy with the victims of evil. His is a relational justice, always in relation to someone with a specific face and not an idea or a norm. Such human justice becomes obedience to the other, responsibility and custody of the other. Joseph’s justice becomes radical obedience to the events, to Mary, to God and to the word of God and thus becomes a salvific space, in other words a space for the action of God himself. Joseph’s justice is enriched by faith in the words of the angel which bid him not to fear. The text underlines the activity, shall we say of reflection, of the inner travail of Joseph, agitated by many thoughts as he searches for some solution. In this very human pondering of Joseph, in this discerning, we are told that a light is making its way through the image of the dream; the dream reveals a word, and the word of Scripture when listened to becomes a light shining through the situation of darkness and death in which Joseph found himself. When he awoke, it was not that he had understood but he obeyed and in obeying he demonstrates his faith, his entrustment of himself: his is a movement of abandonment not a rationalization, and faith and trust give him the freedom and courage to take Mary with him.

We too, in our dark nights, are asked to listen and to believe. Listening to the lunatic words of the Scriptures and believing in the incredible ensures that room may be made in our poor lives for the action of God. Because the history of salvation has always made headway through lacerated human stories that sought salvation: the affair between Joseph and Mary was an affair more than ever in need of salvation, of redemption (vv. 20-21). Joseph saves his affair with Mary and also saves the history of salvation because he fulfilled the paternal task of giving the child the name of Jesus. All that he thought he had lost he was given, all that he had chosen, all that he could take from the beginning, he received in the end: Mary, a son… Perhaps we too have only what we receive; even what we choose, what we believe we are making our own, is in reality the object of a profound relationship only at the moment when we receive it as a gift, as having risen after being dead. Love is based on the acceptance of a loss: this teaches us what the events of Joseph with Mary teach us, because it is only in this way that our love stories, so much in need of salvation, can become stories saved and stories that save. 

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