January 31, 2021 - Pastor Message05/18/2021
THE YEAR OF ST. JOSEPH RIGHTEOUSNESS
“When [Jesus’] mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’...When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus” (Matthew 1:18-21, 24-25).
Continuing our year-long reflection on St. Joseph, our theme for the month of February will be Joseph’s righteousness. After identifying Joseph as the “husband of Mary” (1:16), the gospel of Matthew first describes Joseph as a “righteous man” (1:19). To understand what that means, we need to understand the meaning of righteousness in Scripture. Joseph, a faithful Jew, serves as a transitional figure between the Old and New Testaments, or Covenants, which actually tell the story of a series of covenants that God makes with human beings, leading toward the new and final covenant he makes with all people in Jesus Christ. Running through and undergirding this series of covenants is the biblical meaning of righteousness.
A covenant is a deeply committed personal relationship in which a person pledges not only things but his or her very self to another and receives the other person completely in return. The glue that binds a covenant and seals the new relationship it establishes is fidelity, the faithfulness that each party in the covenant shows by fulfilling their commitment to the other but also the trust, or faith, that each has in the other to do the same. This fidelity in the covenants God forms with people is the biblical meaning of righteousness.
Righteousness is first and foremost an attribute of God. From the very beginning of creation, God has always desired a lifegiving, personal relationship with people, but we rejected that relationship through sin. The Old Testament tells the story of how, in his infinite mercy and kindness, God initiates new covenant relationships with people, and, in his supreme righteousness, we can trust that he will always be faithful to his covenants and fulfill what he promises: “My mouth shall declare your righteousness, day by day your salvation, though I know not their extent. I will treat of the mighty works of the Lord; O God, I will tell of your singular righteousness” (Psalm 71:15-16).
God’s righteousness in turn calls forth righteousness from us, placing our faith in him and fulfilling our pledge in the covenant he establishes with us: “Happy the man who makes the Lord his trust, who turns not to idolatry or to those who stray after falsehood. How numerous have you made, O Lord, my God, your wondrous deeds! And in your plans for us there is none to equal you; Should I wish to declare or tell them, they would be too many to recount. Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then I said, ‘Behold, I come’” (Psalm 40:5-8). It is this sense of righteousness that we see in Joseph, which we will continue to explore in next week’s column.
Fr. Marc Stockton