4th Sunday of Advent (A)
The justice of Joseph saved Mary’s life
Matthew 1, 18-24
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with
the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus.
In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover
the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death.
Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them
the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation
and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor
and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples
from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness
to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice
and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us
the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) Key for reading:
The majority of the members of the Christian Communities
in Palestine and in Syria, for whom Matthew wrote his Gospel, were converted
Jews. They accepted Jesus as Messiah and believed in Him. They were
persecuted because of their faith. Their brother Jews said to them:
“You Christians are deceived! Jesus is not, nor can he be the Messiah!”
In the text which we are meditating on this Sunday, the concern of Matthew
is evident, he wants to confirm the faith of the communities. It is
as if he wished to tell us: “You do not live deceived! Jesus is truly
the Messiah! “The intention of Matthew in chapters one and two of his
Gospel is to inform the readers concerning Jesus, whose activity will
be described beginning in chapter three. In the first two chapters,
Matthew presents the credentials of Jesus, the new Legislator, the new
Moses. In the genealogy (Mt 1, 1-17), he had already shown that Jesus
belongs to the race of David and of Abraham (Mt 1, 1). In these verses
(Mt 1, 18-25) Matthew continues to present Jesus to us describing his
birth. He says how Joseph received the news that Mary was with child
and, the prophecies which will be realized with the birth of Jesus,
showing that he is the expected Messiah. During the reading, it is well
to pay attention to what the text tells us on the person of Jesus, especially
in what concerns the significance of the two names that he receives.
b) A division of the text to help the reading:
Matthew 1, 18: A legal irregularity in Mary
Matthew 1, 19: The justice of Joseph
Matthew 1, 20-21: The explanation or elucidation by the Angel
Matthew 1, 21-23: The melody in Matthew’s Gospel
Matthew 1, 24-25: The obedience of Joseph.
c) The text:
This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed
to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be
with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being an
upright man and wanting to spare her disgrace, decided to divorce her
informally. 20 He had made up his mind to do this when suddenly the
angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of
David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she
has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth
to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to
save his people from their sins.'
22 Now all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through
the prophet: 23 Look! the virgin is with child and will give birth to
a son whom they will call Immanuel, a name which means 'God-is-with-us'.
24 When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him
to do: he took his wife to his home; 25 he had not had intercourse with
her when she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
i) Which point of this text struck you the most? Why?
ii) According to the words of the Angel, who is the Son who will be
born of Mary?
iii) According to the words of Matthew, which prophecy of the Old Testament
is fulfilled in Jesus?
iv) Which are the two names which the Child receives and which is God’s
project hidden in these names?
v) How is Joseph’s attitude to be understood? What does this attitude
vi) In what exactly does Joseph’s “justice” consist?
vii) Which is our justice, compared with that of Joseph?
5. For those who desire to
go deeper into the theme
a) Context of the evangelic text:
The genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1, 1-17) leaves us with
a question. Next to the names of the forty-two paternal ancestors of
Jesus (Mt 1, 17), Matthew gives the names of four maternal ancestors
only: Tamar (Mt 1, 3), Rahab, Ruth (Mt 1, 4) and the wife of Uriah (Mt
1, 6). The four women conceived their sons outside the parameters of
purity or of the legal justice of that time. Therefore, the state of
these four women is irregular before the Law. The irregularity of these
four ancestors is evident. It is sufficient to read the texts of the
Old Testament where their story is described. And thus, at the end of
the genealogy arises a question: “And Mary, the spouse of Joseph, from
whom Jesus is born (Mt 1, 16), does she also incur in some irregularity
of a legal type? The text on which we are meditating this Sunday speaks
b) Commentary on the text:
Matthew 1, 18: A legal irregularity in Mary
Mary is with child before going to live with Joseph, her promised
spouse. The one who looks at things from outside is aware of an irregularity
and will say: “Mary, how horrible!” According to the law of Moses, these
errors merited a death penalty (Dt 22, 20). To avoid this mistaken interpretation
of facts, Matthew helps the reader to see the other aspect of Mary’s
pregnancy: “She conceived by the Holy Spirit”. To human eyes this may
seem a transgression of the Law, but in God’s eyes this was exactly
Matthew 1, 19: The justice of Joseph
The pregnancy of Mary takes place before she went to live with Joseph,
not because of a human deviation, but because of the divine will. God
himself made fun of the law of legal purity in such a way as to make
the Messiah be born among us! If Joseph had acted according to the requirements
of the law of that time, he would have had to denounce Mary and possibly
she would have been stoned. Pregnancy before marriage is irregular and
according to the law of legal purity, she should be punished with the
death penalty (Dt 22, 20). But Joseph, because he is just, does
not obey the requirements of the law of purity. His justice is
greater. Instead of denouncing, he prefers to respect the mystery which
he does not understand and decides to abandon Mary in secret. The greatest
justice of Joseph saves both the life of Mary and that of Jesus.
Thus, Matthew sends an important message to the communities of Palestine
and Syria. It is as if said: “Behold, what would happen if the rigorous
observance would be followed, which certain Pharisees demand from you!
They would put the Messiah to death!” Later Jesus will say: “If your
justice is not greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will
not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5, 20).
Matthew 1, 20-21: The explanation or elucidation
of the Angel and the two names of the Son of Mary: Jesus and Immanuel.
“The Angel of the Lord” helps to discover the deepest dimension
of life and of events. He helps to make an X-Ray of events and to perceive
God’s call which with our human eyes alone we cannot perceive. The Angel
makes Joseph understand that Mary’s pregnancy is the fruit of the action
of the Holy Spirit. God himself, the day of creation, blew over the
waters and filled with force the creating Word of God (Gen 1, 2). The
new creation takes place in Mary. It is the beginning of the new heaven
and the new earth, announced by Isaiah (Is 65, 17). The Son of Mary
receives two names: Jesus and Immanuel. Jesus means “Yahweh saves”.
Salvation does not come from what we do but from God, rather from what
God does for us. Immanuel means “God with us”. In the Exodus,
when getting out of Egypt, God goes down to be with the oppressed people
(Ex 3, 8) and tells Moses: “I will be with you” (Ex 3, 12) and
from that moment on he never abandons his people. The two names, Jesus
and Immanuel, render concrete, and even go beyond the hope of the people.
Matthew 1, 22-23: The melody of Matthew’s Gospel
“All this took place in order that what had been said of the Lord
by the prophet could be fulfilled”. This phrase or other similar ones
are like a melody, words which are repeated many times in the Gospel
of Matthew (Mt 1, 23; 2, 22.214.171.124; 4, 14; 8, 17; 12, 17; 13, 14.35;
etc.). This reveals the purpose which the author had in mind: to confirm
for his readers of Jewish origin the fact that Jesus is truly the promised
Messiah. In him the promises of the prophets are fulfilled.
Here Matthew quotes the text of Isaiah: “The virgin will conceive and
give birth to a son, whom she will call Immanuel” (Is 7, 14). The title
Immanuel more than a name reveals the meaning of Jesus for us.
Jesus is the proof that God continues to be with us. The name itself
of the Child is Jesus (Mt 1,25).
Matthew 1, 24-25: The obedience of Joseph
Waking up from sleep, Joseph does what the Angel told him and took
Mary to his house. And he continues to say that he had no relation with
Mary, to confirm that Jesus is born from the Holy Spirit.
c) Extending the information:
A key for the Gospel of Matthew - The Gospel
of Matthew is addressed to a community of converted Jews, who live a
deep crisis of identity in relation to their Jewish past. When in the
year 65 AC the revolt broke out against Rome, the Jewish-Christians
did not participate and they abandoned Jerusalem. The Pharisees did
the same thing. After the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, the
Pharisees reorganized the people who had remained and they lined up,
always in a more decisive way, against the Christians, who at the end
were excommunicated. This excommunication made the problem of identity
even worse. Now, officially excommunicated, they could no longer go
to their Synagogue, to their rabbi. And the question arose among them:
To whom do the promises belong: to the Synagogue or to the Church? Who
is the true People of God, they or we? Is Jesus truly the Messiah? Matthew
writes his Gospel for this community. The Gospel of Matthew can be defined
by the three following words:
i) The Gospel of consolation for those excommunicated and persecuted
by their brother Jews who do not accept Jesus as the Messiah (Christ);
it helps to overcome the trauma or shock of the breaking.
ii) The Gospel of revelation: It shows Jesus as the true Messiah,
the new Messiah, in whom is the summit of all the history of the Old
Testament with its promises.
iii) The Gospel of the new practice: which describes the practice
of Jesus, and shows how to attain a new justice, greater than that of
This happened in order that it could be realized
- by means of this phrase repeated many times in his Gospel, Matthew
touches on the point of greatest tension between Christians and Jews.
Starting from the Bible, they said: “Jesus is not and cannot be the
Messiah!” Starting from the Bible itself, Matthew responds and affirms:
“Jesus is truly the Messiah!”
The pregnancy of Mary - Matthew as well as Luke
quote the text of Isaiah “A virgin will conceive and give birth to a
son, whom she will call Immanuel” (Is 7, 14). But there is a difference.
Luke places Mary in the centre and gives more importance to the sign
of virginity (Lk 1, 31). Matthew places Joseph in the centre and gives
more importance to the significance of the name Immanuel.
Joseph’s dream - the Angel appeared to Joseph
in his sleep and helps him to understand. With the help of the Angel,
Joseph succeeded in discovering God’s action in this event, which according
to the opinion of the time, seemed to be only the fruit of deviation
and of sin. Angel means messenger. He brings a message and a help to
perceive God’s action in life. Today there are many Angels who guide
us in life. Some times they act while we sleep, in our dreams, other
times in our meetings, in conversations and in Biblical encounters,
in facts, etc. So many Angels, so many Angels!.
6. Prayer: Psalm 72 (71)
His name endure for ever!
God, endow the king with your own fair judgement,
the son of the king with your own saving justice,
that he may rule your people with justice,
and your poor with fair judgement.
Mountains and hills,
bring peace to the people! With justice
he will judge the poor of the people,
he will save the children of the needy and crush their oppressors.
In the sight of the sun and the moon he will endure,
age after age.
He will come down like rain on mown grass,
like showers moistening the land.
In his days uprightness shall flourish,
and peace in plenty till the moon is no more.
His empire shall stretch from sea to sea,
from the river to the limits of the earth.
The Beast will cower before him,
his enemies lick the dust;
the kings of Tarshish and the islands will pay him tribute.
The kings of Sheba and Saba will offer gifts;
all kings will do him homage,
all nations become his servants.
For he rescues the needy who calls to him,
and the poor who has no one to help.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the needy from death.
From oppression and violence he redeems their lives,
their blood is precious in his sight.
Long may he live;
may the gold of Sheba be given him!
Prayer will be offered for him constantly,
and blessings invoked on him all day.
May wheat abound in the land,
waving on the heights of the hills,
like Lebanon with its fruits and flowers at their best,
like the grasses of the earth.
May his name be blessed for ever,
and endure in the sight of the sun.
In him shall be blessed every race in the world,
and all nations call him blessed.
Blessed be Yahweh,
the God of Israel,
who alone works wonders;
blessed for ever his glorious name.
May the whole world be filled with his glory!
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled
us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten
our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word
has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen
to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.