The 4th Sunday of Advent – 18 December 2022
Lectionary Readings: Isa. 7:10-14; Ps. 23:1-6; Rom. 1:1-7; Matt. 1:18-24
Theme: “Joseph, being a righteous man”
he gospel for this Sunday begins with a story that has happened many, many times. A man realizes that the woman he intends to marry is pregnant. He knows he is not the father. Joseph, the man in this case, is described as dikaios, which means ‘righteous.’ The root of the word is dike. This is often translated as ‘justice’. It comes, however, from a root word which means ‘to stick, or to fix’. Dike can mean, therefore, what is customary, or the way things have always been. And, as we know, the way things have always been is not necessarily the lord’s way. Joseph’s knowledgement of Mary’s pregnancy, means that he is now unwilling to marry her. As Warren Carter explains in his commentary:
“Sexual intercourse by a betrothed virgin with another man betrayed the commitment to future marriage and so was adultery. The law (if enacted) permitted execution after public trial. (Dt 22:23-27) Joseph is righteous in following the law but merciful in divorcing her quietly (probably with two witnesses) …The angel, a messenger from God who declares God’s will, confirms Mary’s pregnancy to Joseph, attributes it to God’s action, and requires him to do the socially unconventional and shameful thing in marrying her. “(Carter, 1749)
This gospel inspired the following lines from Ann Johnson’s “Magnificat for a Dreamer”. (Johnson, 69) Mary is the speaker.
“My soul is grateful for your tender caring
and my spirit rejoices in you, God, my provider,
because you have given an enabling dream to a person I love.
Yes, we both know the blessedness of our life together,
for the Almighty has shown us clearly the rightness of the path ahead.
Holy is the name of the one who speaks in dreams:
Clarifying visions reach from age to age into the sleep of people who seek to know their own way.
God has shown the freeing power of an inner answer to one who asks in genuine yearning,
‘What shall I do in this moment, Faithful Teacher?’”
For Reflection and Discussion: (1) Amy-Jill Levine (254) calls Joseph, the righteous man who behaves in an unrighteous way, “a model of higher righteousness [who] does what he considers proper even though his action is neither legally necessary nor socially accepted.” Have you ever behaved in such a way? (2) Have you ever been inspired by a dream to make a significant change in your life?
Bibliography: Johnson, Ann, Miryam of Nazareth: Woman of Strength & Wisdom (Notre Dame IN: 2005); Warren Carter, Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: NRSV with the Apocrypha (Abingdon TN:2003): Amy-Jill Levine, Matthew, in The Women’s Bible Commentary (Louisville KY, 1992)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010