Sermon of the Week
God’s Good Treasure: The Word, Unchained.
Keywords: Biblical interpretation, hermeneutics, Rachel Held Evans, Joseph, Bible unchained.
I was, oh, maybe 14 or 15 when I realized how complicated the Bible really is.
It was December, so we were in the Season of Advent,
leading up to Christmas,
and there were maybe four of us in Mr. Dabler and Mr. Shaw’s church school class
and we were talking about the story of Jesus’s dad, Joseph.[i]
That story is found in the Gospel According the Matthew,
where you read about Joseph (who was a carpenter),
from a small, out of the way place called Nazareth.
He’s your average guy, trying to figure things out,
do his work, keep his nose down,
not make waves.
He doesn’t stand out, one way or the other.
Not particularly exceptional, nor is he a problem.
If not for this story, he probably would have gone unnoticed.
He was engaged to Mary, a young girl from town.
Some of the older versions use the more formal word betrothed
which sort of opens up a bit more about what these sorts of relationships meant
because a troth, in more archaic English, means loyalty, or faith
when pledged in a solemn agreement to do something.
When you pledge your troth,
you’re saying you’re going to do it.
It is a commitment on a commitment.
No fingers crossed.
Joseph was engaged to Mary.
It was a solemn agreement. They were to wed.
Like many Bible stories, this one is short on some details.
We want to know where Mary is going to get her dress.
Who are the bridesmaids? Where is the reception going to be? Will there be cake?
In truth, the two are rather poor,
the wedding will likely happen in Joseph’s family’s house,
and the guest list will probably include the relatives that live nearby
a neighbor, perhaps,
and the scattered sheep and chickens and other animals that they keep
for company and survival.
When we turn our attention on this couple,
in the Gospel of Matthew,
there’s a bit of a problem.
Mary is pregnant.
Then, like now, there was a lot of stigma for teenage mothers,
but particularly so then when she wasn’t married.
Young girls would regularly be married during the biblical period—
Mary was betrothed herself, after all—
but you weren’t supposed to get pregnant out of wedlock.
This had the potential of being a HUGE scandal.
And it wasn’t all that big a town, Nazareth.
It’s not like she could just have her child. Blend in. Go unnoticed.
Not much to do there, either.
No Chiefs football games to watch on Sundays
and to talk about all week.
No cable news or TicTok feeds to keep you busy.
The gossip had the potential of travelling far and fast
and, well, Mary’s future might be ruined.
The text tells us Mary is pregnant because, well, it’s Jesus.
This is a God thing.
But I doubt it felt much like that to Mary
or to Joseph, actually, who seems to have been pacing the floor
trying to figure out what to do about all of this.
So we’re in Mr Dabler and Mr. Shaw’s church school class
one December Sunday morning
when I was about that same age as Mary and Joseph might have been
maybe 14 or 15 years old, something like that,
and we were talking about this little pickle.
Here’s what custom and scripture would have them do,
Joseph would call it off.
They were betrothed, but there’s evidence, apparently,
that the solemn vows were broken.
Just give it a few months, and you’ll be able to see that evidence, too,
and then people will talk and word will spread
and it won’t be good.
Call it off, Joseph.
You still have time to re-set everything and make your future work.
The law and tradition gives Joseph the right to break it all off,
under these circumstances.
But Joseph doesn’t do that.
He decides, no, that’s not the right thing to do.
Not right for Mary.
Not right for the child.
Not right for him.
He’s going to stick with it. They’re going to get married.
He is going to raise the child, love him, care for him.
Help him to thrive.
Without that, maybe Christmas,
maybe Jesus would have turned out quite differently.
But here’s the question, said Mr Dabler and Mr Shaw:
how did Joseph think he could do that? [Read more…]