March 19, 2007: Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

A SON NOT HIS, BUT TRULY HIS

The first chapter Gospel of Luke gives us elaborate stories related to the conception and birth of the Lord Jesus. John the Baptist and his parents and — of course — Mary are primary characters in these stories. Joseph is barely mentioned as the man to whom Mary is betrothed.

The first chapter of Matthew, gives Joseph a more prominent role though making it clear that Joseph is the husband of Mary and not the biological father of Jesus. But he was the father of Jesus. Under Jewish law, and the laws of some other ancient peoples, a child was not his father’s at birth — even when the child was clearly his biological offspring. The child became his father’s when the father took him up and called him by name.

The final verse of the Gospel reading for today’s Mass [Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a] tells us:

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

Physical paternity was important to those ancient peoples, but the moral aspects of paternity were at least of comparable importance. By accepting Mary as his wife when he was not the father, by taking Mary and Jesus into his house, by naming Jesus, Joseph took on the moral role of helping to form the character of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is a remarkable statement to those of us who truly believe that Jesus was the Son of God in human flesh. ‘Form the character’ of the human nature of the very Son of God? How could that be?

We Trinitarian Christians believe that Jesus Christ was two natures, human and divine, in one Person — the Son of God. Though the Person knew all that the Father and the Holy Spirit knew, the human nature, Jesus born in Nazareth, was true man.

In an age when so many make so much money casting doubt upon the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, we should be careful not to forget that He was true man as well as true God. We toss around the word ‘person’, destroying a useful term and damaging our ability to even state the most basic truths of Trinitarian Christianity. In fact, the very life of our Lord Himself tells us we are born as human natures, for He was and He was one of us. His Person was divine, the Son of God, and we are not natures of any such Person. We are born as human natures capable of being formed into some sort of human creature which has person-like characteristics, seen most clearly in saints and even in some of the truly great virtuous pagans.

Jesus of Nazareth was also capable of being formed in the sense that He was a baby who didn’t even know how to walk and then He was a child who didn’t even know how to talk. The process wasn’t going to go awry for Jesus because He was the human nature of an all-powerful Person. God could make sure the formation went well, but we have to remember that various processes of forming and maturing did occur. And we have to remember that Mary and Joseph were His good servants in making sure these processes of formation and maturing were properly guided.

This world is God’s world, a world not only of volcanoes and grizzly bears and black-holes, but a world of loving mothers and of fathers who take seriously their responsibility to form the moral characters of their children. God works also through the fathers of our day — if they choose to accept their responsibilities. Most won’t be as wise and as gentle as St. Joseph was, but what matters is the love that shows in acceptance of their sons and daughters and also in firm determination to help those sons and daughters to become good men and women.

We should remember what St. Joseph must have learned, if he didn’t know it when he first accepted Mary as his wife after learning she was pregnant — all children belong to God and parents are servants of God with the duty of properly raising those children.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Christian spirituality, Christianity, Lenten meditations, Peace of Christ, Religion

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