The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Worthy Before the Ark of the Lord

"...How can the ark of the LORD come to me?"
2 Samuel 6:9

There is an icon in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Rite that shows St. Joseph shielding his eyes before the burning bush with Mary holding the Infant Jesus within the bush. It reflects a different interpretation of scripture regarding Joseph's response to hearing that the woman he was betrothed to would be carrying the Messiah.

The popular translation of today has Joseph being a righteous man willing to divorce Mary quietly to avoid shaming her. The implication being that she would have been accused of committing adultery by ancient Mosaic law and thus subjected to stoning. Since an original manuscript of the Gospel no longer exists, one has to rely on the faithful translations that have been preserved; however this one passage presents a bit of a dilemma. Nazareth was hardly a metropolis, but rather a sleepy little village. Everyone must have known everyone. A betrothal was a very public affair. How on Earth could one in such a small community do something as truly scandalous as divorce without anyone taking notice? This would not have been a secret that could have been kept quiet.

It's interesting to ponder the possibility that Joseph perhaps knew much more. This is not to suggest that scripture is lacking; however some translations of the sacred word might be. Joseph wanting to protect Mary from the Mosaic law is truly noble; however, would a righteous man of his day go against that law? Hollywood likes to create a romantic link between Mary and Joseph, and no one can say for sure that there was not; however, marriages in those days were arranged with little regard for the existence of love between the affianced couple. This was very much a business transaction, and the motivation to protect a woman who had committed adultery and violated the solemn contract between her father and her future husband likely would have been pretty low. It's reasonable to consider that something more might have been going on.

In point of fact, the word divorce is not used in Mathew 1:19 in either the Douay-Rheims, King James, or even the Latin Vulate versions of the Bible. What is more, when divorce is referenced in both the Old and New Testament it is identified as giving a bill or certificate of divorce, a noun, versus to divorce, a verb. Why would scripture change its idiom for just this one instance? Yet that is exactly what occurs in the New American Bible translation and the Revised Standard Version, both of which are more modern translations.

A second concern is Joseph's unwillingness to shame Mary by exposing her pregnancy. This, too, appears to be a debatable translation of the more modern bibles. Again, neither the Douay, KJV, or the Vulgate describe this. These older texts rather talk about Joseph not wanting to make Mary's condition known to the public. The newer versions of the Bible infer a reason for the need to hide this knowledge while the older versions simply state the facts. Most interesting is the Latin word traducere, which appears in the Latin Vulgate of Mathew 1:19 and means to parade or process.

The icon of the Eastern Church lets us know why Joseph may have struggled with whether to publicly parade Mary's condition. The ark of the Lord had come to him. And Joseph, a direct descendant of King David who himself had processed and danced before the ark of God in the Old Testament, was now faced with the incarnation of the Savior carried by his wife to be, Mary, the new Eve, the new ark of God. Small wonder he needed the consolation of an angel to help him make his decision to say "yes" to God, and to his special mission of being a father to Jesus.

Perhaps, being a just man, Joseph was not concerned about Mary's fidelity, but rather his own worthiness. For just as his great ancestor, the King of Israel, had once hesitated to carry the ark of the covenant into the City of David (2 Samuel 6:10,) so too Joseph must have doubted if he could do the same before such an important vessel of a physical manifestation of God Himself. And yet our Lord's earthly father did just that. He walked before the ark of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary riding atop a donkey, all the way from Nazareth to the City of David called Bethlehem. He led this holy procession of the holy family to the place where God would come into the world.

Yes, Joseph was more than a casual foster father of Christ. He is a rather mysterious character in the Gospels. He seems to have been alive for at least part of Our Lord's ministry as he gets referenced by Matthew 13:55, Luke 4:22, and John 6:42. Yet scripture shows him absent at the crucifixion and beyond. From the cross, Christ gives Mary to John and vice versa indicating that she was without a husband. He must have passed on sometime before the passion.

The location of his tomb remains equally mysterious. Ancient tradition states that his tomb is empty in the Valley of Josephat though St. Jerome was of the opinion that his tomb remains in the Garden of Gethsemane. A Flemish Benedictine priest, Father Paul of Moll, a saintly man in his own right who died in 1896, reported a saint who had experienced a vision of the body of St. Joseph lying in tomb in an unknown location preserved completely intact and uncorrupted.

St. Joseph...pray for us.


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