As per Old Testament law, if a woman were to get pregnant out of wedlock, she’ll have to be stoned to death. Back in those times, if a woman were to be pledged a man and she is already pregnant, he’ll probably be the guy to hurl the first stone at her. But Joseph being a good man (Matt 1:19) decides to quietly divorce her instead of brining shame upon her. It is noble for a man of that stiff-necked patriarchal culture to be so benevolent.
Joseph gives Mary and the child the support and legitimacy that they need to live and thrive in a society. In fact, when people are sarcastic of Jesus later on in his life, they still call him the Carpenter’s son! But for the strong man Joseph…
There are two kinds of strong people…
First, the high-achievers – the ones who change reality to get what they want.
Second, the high-sacrificers – those who shoulder the weight of reality to give to others the strength and the support they need, whilst sacrificing their personal prerogatives.
From Steve Jobs to Justin Beiber, the popular culture admires the high-achieving men, who make themselves look good by having great achievements under their belt. I submit that it is the second kind of high-sacrificing men that are seldom looked-up-to. From Bruce Oslon to William Carey, these people expend themselves sacrificing their personal well-being for the sake of others. These are are the ones that are truly strong.
Ironically, ‘popular Christianity’ is no different from popular culture in that it celebrates strong men of high-achieving kind over the stronger men of the high-sacrificing kind. David is the considered a hero in ‘popular Christianity’ because he slew Goliath. He is the strong man who’ll won many battles. But ‘popular Christianity’ often fails to reckon that when it comes to taking responsibility for his kids and family, David was a TOTAL failure. Then there is the whole affair of his impregnating another man’s wife and then trying to get the innocent man to take responsibility for it, failing which, getting him killed. Where David fails to take responsibility for what was his, Joseph does the opposite. He take responsibility for what wasn’t his. That is where true high-sacrificing manliness is. Carpenter Joseph is a stronger man than Kind David.
With 2011 ending, one of the key obituaries people are reminiscing about is the demise of the legend Steve Jobs and how his life has affected billions around the world. What is seldom acknowledged is that Steve Jobs was a terrible father. He disowned the kid (Lisa Brennan Jobs) of the first lady he impregnated. On a court case on paternity, he went so far as to claim impotence. He tried to wriggle out of a second out-of-wed-lock impregnation too before finally agreeing to marry the lady. His daughter did not invite him for her graduation. All of this history of Steve being an irresponsible father is often glossed-over because in the eyes of ‘popular opinion makers’, his public achievements override his private failings.
Let alone popular opinion makers, the idea of celebrating strong high-sacrificing manhood is seldom appreciated even in the Church. The failure of the Church to preach this sort of manhood has had a detrimental impact on the society. I was reading an article by the sociologist/historian David Brooks in New York Times. He talks about the social plight of 40% of the children that are born today being out-of-wedlock kids. Single moms are having to step-up to give the kids a good chance at life. Most of the single moms are great in being momma grizzlies. They show great resilience. The society/government tries to do what it can to help such single moms. But what is missed in the dialogue is the root cause of this problem, which is the irresponsibility of the men that impregnate the women. David Brooks goes on to say that we have lost the social norms from a 100 years ago which warranted that a man who impregnated a woman was expected to marry her. If only we had more Josephs we’ll have fewer out-of-wedlock kids.
We need to delve a little deeper into the psyche of modern men who refuse to take responsibility for impregnating a woman. I suspect that the impetus to be irresponsible is not so much about an aversion towards being a father, as much as it is about a craving for pleasure (of the illicit kind, to not be bound to one ‘partner’ in crime). This craving for pleasure is crudely epitomized by Christmas celebration in the Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania where the Dean approved a Christmas tree decorated with condoms (http://nation.foxnews.com/christmas-tree/2011/12/09/condom-christmas-tree-sparks-outrage). Here too Joseph sets a great high-sacrificing example. It would have been legitimate for Joseph to have wanted to share sexual intimacy with his wife, but he refrains. He sacrifices pleasure in order to help and love Mary. Joseph’s loving-kindness towards Mary in refraining even from legitimate pleasure is a great example to both men and women in today’s world whose lives often seem to be defined more by craving for illegitimate pleasures than by virtues of love, kindness and sacrifice.
In contrast to the high-achieving heroes of our age from Steve Jobs to Justin Beiber (who I believe is currently battling a paternity claim), Joseph stands tall and timeless – a high-sacrificing man with a spine and a chest, shouldering the responsibility of protecting and loving the vulnerable. In as much as the likes of the Josephs remain the unsung heroes, today’s society as G.K.Chesterton says, will continue producing ‘men without a chest’. Eventually, such a civilization will disintegrate, not for the lack of high-achieving heroes of the Jobs kind, but of the lack of high-sacrificing heroes of the unsung kind of Joseph.