Dec. 16, 2016

HUSBAND’S CALL: WHAT IF JOSEPH DIVORCED MARY?

“WHEN JOSEPH AWOKE, HE DID AS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD HAD COMMANDED HIM AND TOOK HIS WIFE INTO HIS HOME” (Matt.1:24).

This line is part of the annunciation narrative. Joseph is a righteous man. He is calm and sincere to his wife, Mary. Joseph doesn’t want any shame for himself, longing perhaps for a very quiet and simple home for both himself and his wife is all he desires. Suddenly, he discovers that his wife is pregnant and he isn’t responsible. Let’s think as humans here. His initial reaction will be one of shock, then disbelief, then anger, then confusion, and finally action. How can his trusted wife do that? How can she betray his trust for her? Many things would have been going on in Joseph’s mind.

Let’s assume that Joseph is frustrated with everything, then starts thinking of what his next line of action will be. Does he consult someone for advice? Perhaps, that’s the next step. He has to talk to a friend. Kinship is a prominent feature in the Jewish tradition, so Joseph may take that route of letting the kinsmen know about this; a real quagmire. Surely he has a close friend or confidant with whom to share this distressing development. In the end, the decision is to try to salvage his reputation “since he was a righteous man” (Matt.1:19). Interestingly, though, he isn’t a nasty person. He doesn’t want his self-interest at the expense of his wife’s reputation. For that reason, he “decided to divorce her quietly” (Matt.1:19). Joseph wants to separate from Mary in a respectful way. This is the first feature in Joseph for which he is the best husband in the world.

It is good to reflect on Joseph’s reaction to Mary on hearing that she is pregnant. Why should Joseph not make Mary’s case public? It’s because he recognizes and respects her dignity as woman, and this is before he comes to understand that the son in Mary’s womb is in fact divine. Many men become abusive in circumstances such as this. Just the assumption that the wife is unfaithful, some husbands would begin to play the superior card. They feel it is an opportunity to embarrass their lady. Such men would seize the chance to expose their wives to ridicule. In some cases, ladies have even been falsely accused of being unfaithful. Without substantial proof, men have become abusive and have spread false rumors about their wives. How about when such men had proof? Joseph doesn’t want Mary to go through such disgrace irrespective of the fact that he is not responsible for her pregnancy. His plan to divorce her quietly is to save her from mockery and shame.

And then the angel appears to Joseph. The second part of the story is that Joseph takes Mary into his home as commanded by the angel. He’s told that her pregnancy is from God, and that she is going to be the mother of Jesus, the God-Man. This story sounds simple as we read it from the scripture but it’s more intense than mere reading it. The great lesson is that Joseph has time to listen. He doesn’t make hasty decisions or judge rashly. He is not obstinate or strong headed. He listens to the voice of reason.

Sometimes, it is good to imagine if Joseph hadn’t listened, if he went ahead to divorce Mary. The marriage would have been a total loss for not only Joseph but the whole world. This account is a great reference point for divorce in today’s society. One wonders how many men listen to the voice of God in handling crisis in their marriage. Joseph and Mary have their own crisis at the birth of Jesus. The DNA shows that Joseph is not responsible for his wife’s pregnancy. The result is obvious: he is just going to be a foster-father and care giver to Mary and Jesus. And he takes Mary into his home cf. Matt.1:24).

Husbands should follow Joseph’s example in handling marriage cases and challenges in their homes.

  1. Guard against rash decisions in the face of difficulties. Take some time to reflect over the challenges of marriage. Useful solutions come from listening.
  2. Be careful of the voices you listen to. Listen to the voice of God in marriage. Truly, God speaks to every person, you only have to be able to discern. Joseph heard God’s voice in a dream, you might hear yours through good and spiritual friends. God’s voice is heard in the quiet moments of our lives. Consult inspirational books, listen to inspirational talks, make time to go to church in those difficult moments. God will speak to you too.
  3. Don’t be selfish. Like Joseph, one key to a healthy marriage is to consider the interest of your spouse. If Joseph was selfish, he would have divorced Mary before even hearing the voice of the angel. Be considerate in the treatment of your wife, solutions come when both think and pray over marriage problems.
  4. Don’t play the perfect man. Although Joseph was innocent, he respected Mary’s feelings. It’s important to respect and recognize the feelings of your wife in marriage. That way, no one plays the perfect spouse card. Even the best husband makes mistakes.

As a husband, use the season of Christmas to reappraise and evaluate your role in the family. Look upon the holy family and draw strength from the virtues of Joseph. Recognize your weakness. Work to support and strengthen your wife in your marriage. Only listen to, and consult the right sources when things go wrong. If not, Joseph would have divorced Mary. But divorce is never the solution.