My Catch hit so close to home yesterday that it never got out. I had already decided to explore what we could learn this Christmas season from the life of Joseph, not expecting to find out right off the bat that Joseph blew it in a way that was similar to how I have been blowing it most of my life. And the more I studied it, the deeper and more painful it got, and the more I had to struggle with, “Can I say that?” By the time I was out of spiritual “surgery” it was too late to get the Catch out. On top of that, our Blogtalkradio guest dropped out at the last minute, so yesterday was a day that seemed to never end. Hopefully, the result of all that extra effort on the Catch will benefit many men and women who will find value in this, and want to print it up for their friends in the Christian community.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an 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 what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21)
“Thank you, Lord, but couldn’t you have told me this a little sooner? I almost had her put away.”
“I did … I told Mary.”
“Well, sure,” nudge, nudge, “but you know women.”
“I sure do,” nudge, nudge, “so why didn’t you listen to her?” (Matthew 1:22b-d, JDV John’s Desktop Version)
Marti’s counseling load has increased in the days since Thanksgiving, and that is no surprise, as the first Christmas lights are always harbingers of depression rather than joy for many. And high on the list of issues for at least four of the women she’s been talking to were husbands who didn’t stand up for them in situations where they were left vulnerable. How ironic, Marti and I thought, since we have been talking about doing a series on Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, who, in his own way, didn’t stand up for his wife. (By the way, if you’re confused about why sometimes Mary and Joseph are called husband and wife and sometimes they are “betrothed” to be married, that’s because in the Jewish culture of those days, being betrothed was a contractual relationship as binding as marriage. Betrothed couples were already called husband and wife; just not officially married. So to break up a betrothal required a divorce.)
Perhaps you’re wondering in what way did Joseph not stick up for his wife? Well that’s pretty simple though not immediately obvious and probably why I have yet to run into a Bible commentary that brings it up. To be sure, there are large pieces of information missing from this story and therefore completing it requires some speculation. But this one is pretty hard to refute.
Mary had a spectacular visitation from an angel announcing she was going to conceive of God and be the mother of the Messiah. Now you have to realize that in those days, every Jewish girl/woman lived with the hope that perhaps — just perhaps — they might be the one to bring forth the Savior into the world. Couple this miraculous visitation with cousin Elizabeth already carrying John the Baptist when she wasn’t supposed to be physically able to carry any baby, and it’s hard — nearly impossible — to imagine Mary didn’t tell Joseph about all this. So when she started showing, and Joseph started checking the Jewish yellow pages for divorce lawyers, it can only say one thing about Joseph: he didn’t believe her.
Imagine all this spectacular stuff happening to Mary and Joseph is checking out. Oh, for sure, he was kind and loving about it. (He could have brought her before the Magistrate and had her stoned to death with the law totally on his side.) He was seeking to put her away privately so as not to shame her in public, the account says, but how much of that was his own reputation he was protecting? After all, if your betrothed is pregnant, where is everyone going to look first?
In a perfect world, Mary’s word about the angelic visitation would have been as good as if the angel had appeared to Joseph, too. If he placed total trust in his wife-to-be, one visitation is all that would have been necessary. He would have made plans based on what the angel told her. We would like to think that he would have done what he ended up doing just by listening to his wife, but he didn’t. He “had a mind to divorce her quietly.” That would have sure messed things up.
So God had to send the Angel back to speak to Joseph and tell him the same thing he told Mary, but that shouldn’t have been necessary. Herein you have Joseph not sticking up for his wife.
I don’t know whether it is bad evangelical practice, something I learned from my father, or just male ego, but I know I am likely to not place total trust in what Marti says. Some of this she welcomes. She’s dyslexic and not given to detail so she often asks me to double check her work. But when it comes down to important insights and spiritual understandings, is her sight and judgment as important to me as mine is?
Do I trust her spiritual gifts? Do I trust what she tells me the Spirit of God is telling her? If she told me that an angel of the Lord had appeared to her and told her something was going to happen and she should do such and such, would I need my own angelic visit to confirm that? Regardless of what the case was with Joseph, these are important things to consider because I do believe that biblical hierarchy spoken about in some of Paul’s letters has been abused in the church. It has given men the right to go unquestioned in many matters while largely silencing their wives.
The sadness in my father’s silencing of my mother in the family was that we children never got to know who our mother was until her memorial service, when a steady stream of people who had been significantly touched by her life came forward to express their remembrances, and we never knew. Turns out our little breakfast nook where she spent so much time on the phone was the prayer and counseling hub of the entire universe.
Here’s the bottom line. Like my mother protected my father and never said a bad word about him anywhere, I know Marti is not going to do anything to undermine me or my ministry. But what am I doing to protect her, provide for her, and promote her ministry and her gifts?
My first album after we got married was Naphtali. It had as its theme: “Naphtali is a doe set free; he/she gives beautiful words.” The second verse contains this lyric:
You who live your life like a frightened doe
Tensely watching and fearing the hunter’s bow
He has brought in His kingdom where you can go
Free to be who you are.
So arise my beloved, my beautiful one
And come along, come along
For lo, the winter is past and the rains
Have come and gone … come along.
Have I done this? Have I made sure that Marti has a safe place to go free and become all that she is? No. Quite the opposite. She feels trapped as if what as she has will be taken away.
Once again, John has been great with words, terrible with doing what they say.
And here is where Joseph far exceeded me. He finally did receive an angelic visit, and having received it (with the angel saying the same thing he told Mary), he did what the angel said and never looked back. I, on the other hand, have had numerous visits from angels, friends, counselors — you name it — and largely ignored them.
So why am I telling you all this? Because I have a hunch I am not alone — that other husbands may be guilty of the same things, and my story may help them come to grips with what they need to do. And finally, and most importantly for me, maybe I’ll get it, and come to grips with what I need (and really, in my heart, want) to do.
“[Our Prayer Warriors], who [are part] of you and servant[s] of Christ Jesus, send greetings. [They are] always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” (Colossians 4:12-13) So let them know what your needs are. We know anxiety can run high during this season, so don’t go it alone. Click here to leave your requests.