My Bible translation entitles today’s 40 Days in Matthew passage “The Birth of Jesus.” However, the passage could just have easily been named “The Annunciation to Joseph.” In fact, a quick Google search shows that some Bible translations do use this title for the passage. Matthew’s infancy narrative has an obvious focus on Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, in stark contrast to the obvious focus on Mary, Jesus’ mother, in the infancy narrative in the Gospel of Luke. It seems to me that a probable reason for the continued focus on Jesus’ (adoptive) paternity following the patrilineal genealogy earlier in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is the fact that Matthew is writing for a primarily Jewish audience, as yesterday’s 40 Days in Matthew blog post discusses. As he concludes the first chapter of his Gospel, Matthew seeks to drive home the point that Jesus is, at least by adoption, a member of the House of David, a descendant of Abraham. Jesus has come into the world to save many, a many that, as Matthew emphasizes, includes the Israelites.
While Matthew’s motive for focusing the passage on Joseph may have been to appeal to his Jewish audience, the passage is still relevant for the non-Jewish reader. I have to admit, even after attending St. Joseph High School for four years, I still give more credit and recognition to Mary, than to Joseph, in the parenthood of Jesus. In my own defense, the Catholic Church venerates Mary on eleven (plus six optional) days in the liturgical calendar and venerates Joseph on only one (plus one optional) day. For this reason, I really appreciate having this passage as a reminder that Jesus came into the world not only through the Holy Spirit and Mary, but also through Joseph. I believe that God is certainly almighty enough to have entered the world by a different means had Joseph, believing Mary had committed adultery, chosen to divorce her, but it’s still impossible for my human brain to imagine how salvation history would have panned out by a different means. If Joseph had ultimately said “No” to God, how would the story of salvation history be different? I can’t think it through, so I’m really glad to be reminded in today’s passage of how Joseph ultimately said “Yes” to God.
Something else of note about the passage, for Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike, is that it is the first example of how Matthew presents the idea that Jesus provides a whole new framework by which to think about the Jewish laws. By law, Joseph had the right to, and was perhaps even required to, divorce Mary because of her (apparent) adultery. Yet, Joseph is told by God not to divorce her. Jesus, and his coming into the world, is important enough for God to give Joseph permission to “break the law.” I am grateful for the consequences of Joseph’s “delinquency.”
There have been several relatively recent moves by the Church to venerate St. Joseph. The first Josephology centers, devoted entirely to the theological study of St. Joseph, were created in the 1950s. In 1962, Pope John XXIII added Joseph’s name to the Canon of the Mass. Pope Francis followed that up in 2013 with the addition of Joseph’s name to the other Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass. Finally, although it is not a new tradition, there is the opportunity to remember Joseph on March 19, his feast day. Whether it be during a Mass, his feast day, or a simple reflection, I hope that we, like Matthew, can remember Joseph’s important role in salvation history.
Marina Spinelli ’18 is a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator in Eliot House.