Joseph the Just
You might already know the story about a woman who once went to confession to Saint Philip Neri and told him that she had been gossiping a lot lately. The Saint is reputed to have given the poor lady a very unusual penance: “Go to the market, buy a chicken, and pluck it on your way back here. Don’t worry where the feathers end up. Just scatter them along on your way back. And when you get back here and give me the plucked chicken, I’ll tell you the rest of your penance.”The woman was baffled, but it was confession, so did as she was asked. After she handed the plucked chicken to the saint, Phillip said to her: “Now go back and pick up every one of those feathers you dropped””But, Father!”, she replied, It’s impossible to know where they’ve all gone! The wind is after carrying them all over the place as we speak… I’ll never be able to find them all””Just exactly like the words of your gossip”, was the saint’s reply…
In Joseph’s world and at the time of Jesus’ birth,honour and social status were extremely important. So it would have taken very little effort for him to destroy Mary’s reputation irretrievably,when he learned that she was pregnant and that he couldn’t possibly be the child’s father. His first reaction would have been totally normal and understandable: a visceral and very human feeling of betrayal and disgust.If he were to act on that feeling, an already dire situation would have become as we might say here “la pagaille totale”!And that’s where God comes into the picture…St. Matthew has a wonderful knack of entering God into his narrativejust at the very moment when everything, from a human point of view,seems to be collapsing into chaos and despair…A child has been conceived in an incredible way. A loving, but bewildered husband is faced with the inevitable, to renounce his betrothed and grieve for a love lost and for his shattered dreams… But its just when all seems lost that God enters the picture. And God reveals his plan to Joseph in a dream and in the dream, Joseph comes to realize that Mary’s pregnancy isn’t a cause for gossip…but, strangely, the fruits of God’s grace…The gospel says that Joseph is a “just man”. That little detail is not added by chance. In biblical language that means that Joseph is an upright person, without falseness, without vengeance, a man who does not bear a grudge, a person who completely looks to and trusts God. Joseph, if he wanted, could well have refused to listen to the truth, even the God’s honest truth delivered by God’s own messenger. Sometimes the temptation to wallow stubbornly in our own anger and bitterness can be too strong for us to let go…and accept that we might just have made an error of judgement about someone! Joseph shows us that it doesn’t have to be that way. Joseph’s encounter with Gpd speaks volumes about what God can achieve in each of us if only we can make space for God to get into the picture from time to time. And because of Joseph the “just”, Mary’s integrity is upheld. And the divine legitimacy of Jesus is revealed. And all because God enters the picture and God’s truth is revealed! As Christmas approaches, the Gospel invites us to ask ourselves if we are “just” men and women…if we, like Joseph are upright, without falseness, without vengeance, people who don’t bear grudges, people who trust in God…Joseph is the first to believe in Christmas because he has the humility to accept that God knows what he’s doing, that God writes straight on crooked lines, that God always sees that impossible as an opportunity for grace, and not an obstacle as we might see it. Joseph is the first to embrace the truth that the child Mary brings into the world is the Emmanuel, God with us. And his faith gives him the courage to walk with Mary on the path that God had chosen for them.Let’s ask for the grace this morning to be like Joseph, to have hearts that are open this Christmas to the possibility that maybe we we were too harsh on someone we loved and that maybe its time to let God in so that we can revisit that hurt from God’s perspective, and not just our own.
“Drop down dew from above, you heavens”, entreats the ancient Antiphon at the beginning of today’s Mass, “and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Saviour”. We could well add an extra little prayer to that antiphon this morning: “let the clouds rain down the Just One, You Heavens, and let OUR hearts be opened to welcome Christ our Saviour”.