March 19, 2008

Joseph-Reputation vs Identity

Today the Church Calendar remembers Joseph. I like to remember him as the provider of shelter for Jesus and Mary. Joseph was in the stable when Jesus was born. He took Mary and Jesus to the Jerusalem Temple to present Jesus to God. He shared Mary's anxieties when Jesus was presumed lost. After this, no more is heard of him in Scripture, but I imagine him educating Jesus and training him in the carpentry business.

(This painting is by Raphael.)

Putting myself in Joseph's sandals helps me see that identity (who I really am) is more important than reputation (what others think of me). Joseph was not just a secular Jew, but was one who observed the Torah faithfully and completely, and his reputation was challenged with gossip of Mary's pregnancy. So what was going through his head? He poured over the Torah, consulting legal matters.

What to do with Mary? She says she wasn't seduced or raped, but instead "it was a miracle of God". If he marries Mary he'd lose his reputation. But what if Mary is right? Will he love God by obeying the Torah or will he love Mary? He's about to choose a private divorce when an Angel tells him not to fear (not to fear losing his reputation). I respect him for his attentiveness and listening to angels.

He married Mary, the supposed adulteress.
He gave Jesus a name, becoming the legal father of this 'illegitimate' child. He loved God and others - he surrendered his heart, soul, mind, strength and reputation to God. Joseph became 'less' in the eyes of the religious Jews to provide room for a baby boy who one day would give the 'lesser' (the outsiders) a better reputation than the religious establishment.

When we surrender ourselves to God - lose ourselves - we find ourselves - our real self - we discover our true identity.

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