Monday, November 30, 2009

A Few Good Men...or Women

A layperson asked me the other day, “Why is Joseph mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy if he’s not really Jesus’ father?” Good question. Matthew 1:16 says: “and Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, the one called Christ” (my translation).

There are probably two reasons really. One is that in ancient times (as today) one’s ancestry was traced through one’s father. We call this one’s “surname” or “family name.” Matthew has already tipped his hand in his opening statement that it is his intention to trace Jesus’ ancestry back to David – “The scroll of the genesis of Jesus Christ, son of David (who was) a son of Abraham” (my translation). Matthew knew that the ancient Jewish tradition was that Messiah would be a descendent of David (see my blog “What a Strange Way to Save the World”). Hence, it was important to trace Jesus’ family heritage back to a “Davidid,” a descendent of David, and Joseph, Jesus’ foster father, was a Davidid.

The other reason is stated in verse 19 – “and Joseph, her (betrothed) husband, being a good man and not wishing to stigmatize her, decided to divorce her quietly” (my translation). In that culture of arranged marriages, betrothal (Hebrew kiddushin) was a legally binding agreement codified with a legal document called a ketubah (marriage contract). And we think prenupts were our idea! And so, when Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, and that he was not the father, he decided to do the honorable thing and divorce her secretly. How is that “honorable,” you ask? Because the law stated that a woman guilty of such an indiscretion should not be divorced but stoned! (Deut. 22). Joseph’s secret plan to divorce Mary was actually an act of grace, and quite probably, love. He was, you see, a good man. And so, when the angel reveals to him in a dream that Mary had not been unfaithful to him, but that the child in her womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Joseph not only “bought it,” he breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Mary and I have decided to move our wedding date up.” He was, you see, a good man.

He was a good man because when the crisis came, he didn’t do the expedient thing or the popular thing or the politically correct thing or even the prudent thing; he did the right thing. He did it because he was a good man and that’s what good men do – the right thing. That’s what makes a man “good,” finally; when the chips are down, he does the right thing. It's not about being "the life of the party," or having a good personality or being affable or popular or well-liked. It's not about being someone who works and plays well with others. It's not even about being polite or gentlemanly or kind. It's about doing the right thing - period. Let’s be clear about that. If being a “good man” doesn’t mean that we do the right thing, then the word means nothing. I sometimes hear people express astonishment when someone they knew and trusted and believed in betrayed their trust and did the dishonorable thing, the wrong thing, the bad thing, the evil thing. They say: “I just don’t understand it. He’s such a good man.” Apparently not.

It would have been so easy for Joseph to cut his losses, wash his hands of the whole “affair,” so to speak. But he didn’t. He did the right thing, the honorable thing, the good thing, because Joseph, you see, was a good man.

That’s all, it seems, God ever needs to get things going in the right direction in our world – a few good men or women who are willing to do the right thing – not the popular thing or the expedient thing or the politically correct thing or the profitable thing – but the right thing, because they’re good men and women.

All it takes for God to change the world is a few good men or women. And when He does, can Christmas – Emmanuel, “God With Us” – be far behind?

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