Very rarely do our lives turn out as planned. Most of the time life happens and we get pushed and shoved to places we did not want to go but have no chance of escaping. The life we dreamed of having slowly slips through our fingers as we are forced to deal with the reality of our lives.
Joseph was a man who understood what it means to have shattered dreams. So often when we talk about Joseph in a Biblical context we think about Joseph of the Old Testament. He was a person who experienced shattered dreams. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, accused of a crime he did not commit, and forced to live in prison for years. The dreams he had of becoming great seemed to constantly dwindle away. Though we know now that God used those painful experiences to prepare Joseph for the great task that was ahead of him Joseph lived his life totally unaware of the big picture.
While Joseph, the son of Jacob, could teach us many lessons about shattered dreams that is not the Joseph I want to focus on. I want us to focus on Joseph, the husband of Mary, and the earthly father of Jesus. With all the other characters involved in the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life Joseph is often overlooked, but I want to suggest to you that Joseph experienced the pain of shattered dreams only to discover God’s great dream for his life.
Matthew 1:19 reads: Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly (NIV). We are told that Joseph was a “righteous” man. This description is basically all we know about the character and faith of Joseph. Though it is simple it reveals a lot about who Joseph was.
We have our own ideas about what it means to be righteous. We think of someone who is moral and religious. We picture a good person who tries his/her best to live out their faith in their lives.
For the Jew of that time period to be considered righteous meant that you were a lover of the Law, or the Torah. Joseph was not a Pharisee or a disciple of some rabbi. He was an ordinary hard working Jew. That meant he lacked the extensive religious education of the religious leaders, but he was still trained in the Law and had been brought up to love it. For Joseph to be considered righteous meant that he showed passion in studying and following the Torah. He was on path to be respected by the people of the community and to set as an elder. It was the dream most males of that strict religious culture had.
Yet things did not turn out the way Joseph had dreamed they would go. Instead his young fiancé surprised him with her pregnancy. Joseph knows the child is not his and Mary makes the outlandish claim that no man is the father. I think even on this side of Jesus we can understand Joseph’s doubts about Mary’s explanation. The way Joseph sees things is that Mary is pregnant and the baby is not his. That leaves him with just one alternative: she has been unfaithful.
I want you to think about the implications this realization had for Joseph. What did the Torah say about unfaithfulness? Unfaithfulness was punishable by death. If Joseph was a lover of the Torah what would he demand be done? Laws are no good if the punishments are not carried out, and Joseph knew the punishment that Mary’s “sin” called for.
We have our own idea of what righteousness means and that is probably the reason the NIV uses the word “because” in verse 19. In the translators view it was because Joseph was a righteous man that he looked for an option so Mary would not have to go through he public disgrace of stoning. That lines up real well with our view or righteousness.
I would like to suggest that a better way to translate verse 19 is with the word “although.” It wasn’t because Joseph was righteous that he looked for a way to help Mary avoid stoning, but it was in spite of his righteousness that he sought to help Mary. The righteous part of Joseph wanted justice to be done. God had commanded that adulterers be stoned and so we see that this was a perfectly acceptable punishment in God’s eyes. Joseph would have been within his rights to see Mary punished.
Why didn’t he? I would assume that there was a force greater than righteousness working in the heart of Joseph. That force was love. Joseph loved Mary and he did not want to see anything bad happen to her, even though he thought she had betrayed him.
There is very little we know about Joseph and Mary’s relationship. We know that engagement for these ancient Jews was much more binding than our simple little promise and ring giving, but how well the two knew each other is uncertain. What I am confident about is on the day Joseph learned Mary would be his wife Joseph chose to love her and her alone. As he prepared the place in which they would live together he had fantasized about what life would be like. He thought about the family they would have and all the other things a man dreams about before getting married. Joseph loved Mary, and because of that he did not wish to see her public disgraced.
Who does this sound like? Doesn’t it sound like God? If what I am said is true then Joseph would have a God like quality about him. Remember God’s righteousness demands justice, our deaths, but His love seeks to save us from the horrors of being separated from God.
To divorce Mary quietly Joseph would be able to spare Mary’s life and he would admit her guilt. Joseph could still work on his dream of becoming a righteous man.
Why didn’t Joseph just marry Mary? To me the most noble and loving thing to do would be to still go though with the wedding in an attempt to save Mary from making more bad choices.
We have to understand that if Joseph went ahead and married Mary his reputation would be ruined and his chance at being an elder and a Lover of the Torah would be gone. In the small town of Nazareth everyone would find out about Mary and her illegitimate son. They would talk and Joseph would lose both business and his reputation because it would seem like he was accepting Mary’s sin. To marry Mary would demolish all of Joseph’s dreams.
After wrestling with what to do, God finally sends an angel to Joseph to explain to him what to do. God wants Joseph to do the very thing that will make it impossible for him to achieve his dreams.
Why does God wait? Why doesn’t he send Gabriel to Mary and Joseph on the same night? After all Gabriel is in the area it wouldn’t have been a big deal. Could it be that God wanted Joseph to really examine the price he was going to pay to take Mary as his wife? Joseph knew that to take Mary as his wife would cost him his reputation, his business, and standing in the community. Joseph needed to examine his life and come to an understanding about what he cared most about.
God’s dream for Joseph’s life was not about a life built on the reputation of being a lover of the Law. God’s dream for Joseph’s life was to be the primary teacher of the law and ethics to Jesus. Joseph raised the Messiah! While the people around him probably thought he was crazy Joseph knew that true righteousness is found in doing God’s Will and not being merely a student of His Law.
Through his life Joseph was able to be an example to Jesus. I know that it sounds crazy that a mere human could be an example to the Son of God, but I think Joseph was an example. Think about the example Joseph was when he loved Mary, even though people whispered about her being an adulterer. Think about Joseph’s example when he accepted and loved Jesus, even though the town continually talked about Jesus not being Joseph’s son. Think about how Joseph struggled to find work because he was no longer seen as a righteous man in the eyes of the people of the community. Jesus’ family would have been treated as sinners, even though the sin people thought was committed never happened. Doing those important years of life Joseph would have been an example to Jesus about love and doing the right thing in spite of the negative consequences,
Joseph’s dreams were shattered when Mary came to him and announced that she was pregnant. His life was not made easier because he accepted God’s dream for his life, but it was made better. Joseph dreamed of having a reputation, but God dreamed of Joseph having an influence. The influence of Joseph on Jesus’ life, and thus on the world, will probably not be understood until heaven. Often the dreams God has for us we will not see in this life, but in the life to come.
Our dreams, even though they seem religious and good, only get in the way of what God wants to do through us. Only when we accept God’s call on our lives will we find the life we were created to live. Let go of your dreams and let them shatter so you can pick up God’s dream.