Doing right, exercising faith MATTHEW 1:18–24
By Fr Gabriel Julien
Today we celebrate the fourth and last Sunday of Advent. The gospel, according to Matthew 1:19, mentions that Joseph was a man of honour, or put another way, a man of righteousness. What does it mean to be righteous in the sight of God?
Righteousness could be considered as sharing ‘complete’ holiness of God and so to commit sin is to go against the desires of God. It is correct to say that righteousness is the ‘only’ living standard that is acceptable for us before the throne of the Father.
Proverbs 12:28 instructs that “the wages of sin is death, but in the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”
Righteousness, therefore, is one of the major attributes of God and one of its principal meanings concerns ethical conduct: Leviticus 19:36, Deuteronomy 25:1, Psalm 1:6, Proverbs 8:20. As mentioned earlier, being righteous means being acceptable to God.
In sacred scripture, Noah is considered one of the first persons to be called righteous. Genesis 6:9 “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. He walked with God”.
This example clearly illustrates two profound aspects of righteousness: one involves doing what is right and the other includes possessing a sound relationship with Almighty God.
Joseph was righteous in his relationship with Mary. It was while Mary was betrothed to Joseph that the angel appeared to her and told her she would give birth to the “Son of the Most High God” (Lk 1: 26–33).
At that moment Mary did not comprehend how that could happen since she was a virgin (Lk 1:34). However, the angel assured her that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35).
On one hand, Joseph, being a man of great integrity, was fully aware that the child in Mary’s womb was not his. On the other, to be upright before God meant that he could not commit fornication or adultery, (1 Cor 6:9, 10, 18; Gal 5:19–21; Eph 5:5). If, for some reason, fornication or adultery were committed, he would have had to comply with God’s conditions for forgiveness of this sin. The sexual desire is to be fulfilled only between a man and a woman who are married to each other (Heb 13:4).
Joseph pondered deeply over this grave scenario and concluded that Mary was unfaithful to him but during that dilemma, the Lord spoke to him in a dream.
To accept Mary as his wife without questioning the credibility or truthfulness of the angel’s message was a profound demonstration of faith and trust in the Almighty. Because he was totally upright in the sight of God, he courageously assumed his duty and role of father and husband. Thus, he was unafraid of naming the child Jesus and having Him circumcised on the eighth day.
Moreover, Joseph himself was present at the purification after a birth and accompanied the family to Egypt to escape the murderous plot of Herod (Matt 2:13–15).
It is explicit that Joseph immediately obeyed God’s commands without questioning or complaining, even though it was an arduous and seemingly impossible journey (Matt 2:14).
Upon Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord told Joseph to take his family home and once again he complied without objection (Matt 2:19– 23).
This Fourth Sunday of Advent seriously prompts us to ponder deeply some of the following issues: Are we truly righteous in the sight of God?
How can we be genuinely righteous before God?
Do we listen prayerfully to the voice of the Master?
Do we obey the commandments of the Almighty?
How would we respond if we were to receive messages from God in a dream? What lessons can we learn from Joseph, the just and upright one?
Finally, let us be truly mindful of the fact that with God all things are possible.
The gospel meditations for December are by Fr Gabriel Julien, a diocesan priest.