The Silent Saint
I’ve been thinking about Joseph in the Christmas story for a couple of days now. Joseph is the silent man in the story; there is not one single word of his recorded in Scripture. Three times he received messages in his dreams, each with specific guidance of what he was to do. There have been moments in my life when I’ve wished that would happen to me.
As I was pondering the life of Joseph I stumbled across an online discussion, an argument really, as to whether, in his relationship with Mary, he was an egalitarian (an equal partner to Mary) or a complementarian (exercising “headship” or authority over her). To say that the argument was spirited would be an understatement.
Here is one opinion: “Joseph joined Mary in her shame, committing his whole life to supporting her as she carried out her mission from God. He knew that he was called to support Mary in her calling.”
Which got this reply: “Taking nothing away from Mary, it is clear that Joseph was called to be leading, guiding and protecting her.”
These are just two of the calmer contributions to the debate. As I read those two statements again it is clear that the issue boils down to one question. Was Joseph “supporting” or “leading?” The participants in the discussion had clearly defaulted to their already-held beliefs and were reading those beliefs into the Biblical story. I always wonder why so often we insist on reading our theological constructs into every Bible passage. We decide that God teaches this/that and shoehorn those beliefs into passages that are about something else altogether.
If we will just let ourselves see Joseph as a “righteous man,” as Matthew calls him, we see a man devoted to the law, a “tsadiq.” In that day this description was really a title for a man who studied and practiced the Torah scrupulously. That Torah would tell him he must take Mary to the door of her father’s house, accuse her publicly of adultery and condemn her; a condemnation that would likely end up with her being stoned. If he does anything less than what the Torah commands he will be considered a righteous man no longer.
But note that, even before he gets a heavenly message, he planned to put Mary away privately. Without any message from God; when he had every reason to believe that Mary had betrayed him, he chose the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law; chose kindness over condemnation. I don’t care whether you want to see Joseph as egalitarian or complementarian. But we do need to see this quiet, even silent, man as amazing.