Angelic moments

josephangel“…Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) And of course, we know the rest of the story… the angel comes and tells Joseph what is expected of him – to take Mary and the child into his home – to be husband and father. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him” (Matthew 1:24). Great! Problem solved and now we can turn the page to Matthew 2 because in that chapter Jesus is born, the magi visit and we are all set for Christmas. Continue reading

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Emmanuel: my son

TheAnnunciationJoseph and Jesus. Matthew’s gospel does not describe the birth of Jesus, but explains his origin (the virgin conception) and his name in relation to a specific Old Testament prophecy. The passage concentrates entirely on the experiences of Joseph rather than those of Mary. Even the miraculous conception of Jesus is related only as its discovery affected Joseph. This remarkable concentration, compared with the complete silence on Joseph elsewhere, indicates Matthew’s concern to establish Jesus’ legal lineage through Joseph, i.e. to explain how the preceding genealogy applies to Jesus the son of Mary. Continue reading

Annunciations

TheAnnunciationSimilar, yet… In many respects our gospel (Luke 1:26-38) is similar to the annunciation of the birth of John. The angel Gabriel appears to announce the birth of the child, and the annunciation follows the pattern of birth annunciations in the OT: The angel says, “Do not be afraid,” calls the recipient of the vision by name, assures him or her of God’s favor, announces the birth of the child, discloses the name of the child to be born, and reveals the future role of the child in language drawn from the Scriptures. After their respective announcements, Zechariah and Mary each ask a question, a sign is given, and the scene closes with a departure. The similarity of structure and content between the two scenes invites the reader to consider the differences between them all the more closely. For example, the first announcement came as an answer to fervent prayer; the second was completely unanticipated. John would be born to parents past the age of child bearing, but the miracle of Jesus’ birth would be even greater. Jesus would be born to a virgin. The announcement of Jesus’ future role also shows that at every point Jesus would be even greater than his forerunner. Watch how these nuances are developed in the course of the details of this scene. Note this narrative comparison also punctuates the beginning of Mark’s gospel which has no infancy narrative: John the Baptist is not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet to come, and not worthy to loosen the strap of the sandal of the one who is to come. Continue reading

Holy Family – a commentary

Russian icon of the Flight into Egypt; the bot...The Flight into Egypt. 13 When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” 14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. 15 He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Overall, the passage serves to establish the key themes mentioned previously as it points to the larger events playing out even as God’s plan unfolds out of site in a faraway land. Having already alerted readers to the nefarious plans of Herod, we are not surprised when again (v.13) the angel appears to Joseph in a dream telling him to take the child Jesus to safety. The very similar wording to that in Mt 1:20 (the dream to Joseph to take Mary into his home) indicates that all continues in God’s careful direction of events by supernatural revelations; the parallel revelation in a dream to the magi (v. 12) has secured time for the family’s escape. The angel’s message begins with exactly the same words as in v.20, “Rise, take the child and his mother …”  Joseph’s action exactly matches the angelic instruction, while his setting off at night underlines the urgency of the situation (traveling by night was exceptional and potentially more dangerous). It also demonstrates Joseph’s exemplary obedience, which did not allow him even to delay until daylight. Continue reading

Holy Family – a context

Russian icon of the Flight into Egypt; the bot...Matthew 2:13-23. The Flight into Egypt 13 When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” 14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. 15 He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.”

19 When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. 23 He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazorean.”

Context.  The material in chapter 2 is unique to Matthew. It can be divided into four parts with each of them containing an OT quote, probably added by Matthew into traditional oral narrative material:

  • vv. 1-12 – The Visit of the Magi – with a quote from Micah 5:2
  • vv. 13-15 – The Escape to Egypt – with a quote from Hosea 11:1
  • vv. 16-18 – The Killing of the Children – with a quote from Jeremiah 31:15
  • vv. 19-23 – The Return from Egypt – with a quote from the prophets echoing Hos 11:1; it should be notes that “He shall be called a Nazorean” does not in fact occur anywhere in the OT, nor, as far as we know, in any other contemporary literature.   Continue reading

The Angel of Discomfort

St Joseph with the Infant Jesus (c. 1635), at ...When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matthew 1:24)

I don’t know about you, but I have done lots of things that were commanded of me. I have done them gladly. I have done them with a simmering resentment. I have done them out of Catholic guilt and fear of punishment. I have done them with love and joy.  I have done them with little reaction or second thought.

I wonder about Joseph. He did as the angle of the Lord had commanded him, but what was he thinking or feeling. What was his reaction? I realize that the Gospel is telling a larger story, but still…. I wonder about Joseph who appears so briefly and then disappears from the Gospels. Continue reading

God Is With Us: commentary

First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pi...

Matthew 1:18-24. 18 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,  yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. 20 Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. 21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,  because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. 25 He had no relations with her until she bore a son,  and he named him Jesus.

Commentary – Joseph and Jesus. Matthew’s gospel does not describe the birth of Jesus, but explains his origin (the virgin conception) and his name in relation to a specific Old Testament prophecy. The passage concentrates entirely on the experiences of Joseph rather than those of Mary. Even the miraculous conception of Jesus is related only as its discovery affected Joseph. This remarkable concentration, compared with the complete silence on Joseph elsewhere, indicates Matthew’s concern to establish Jesus’ legal lineage through Joseph, i.e. to explain how the preceding genealogy applies to Jesus the son of Mary.

Continue reading