The Apostolate of the Laity

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

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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.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Marvelous Thing

First a little family history...

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers... and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
Matthew (RSV) 1:1-2,16

For the sake of brevity and readability, the middle section of this list of generations was omitted. Turn one's focus to the last line and zero in on Joseph the husband of Mary. At first glance it appears very ordinary and matter of fact. All know that Joseph was indeed the husband of Mary. Today, if one were to get introduced as the husband of one's spouse, it would hardly register as anything but normal.

Yet in St. Matthew's day, and for the audience whom he wrote for, the Hebrews, it would have been out of the ordinary to introduce a man as the husband of a woman. In fact a read of the entire genealogy from Matthew's gospel doesn't mention any of the wives. Mary is singled out, and for good reason.

To understand this a little better, it's necessary to examine the Latin translation of Matthew 1:16 with an emphasis on the words in bold below:

Iacob autem genuit Ioseph virum Mariae, de qua natus est Iesus, qui vocatur Christus.
(Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.)

Beginning the with the word genuit which is actually a verb meaning to beget or to bring forth. In the modern English translation this verb gets changed into the noun, father, though the Douay-Rheims holds true to the verb and uses the word begot here. It's important because each in this line of succession did something active to create the next person in line until that line gets to Joseph. Suddenly there is a shift here for Joseph did not beget Christ yet his importance in the matter is not lost.

Virum is a Latin word for husband; however, it is also the word for hero, person of courage, honor and nobility. Joseph is the hero of Mary. Were he "just a husband," the Latin word used here might have been conjugis or conubium, which simply translate to spouse or partner. Yet throughout scripture, when the husband is spoken of, it is a title of honor. The virum has duties, responsibilities, and a distinct role in the family and society.

This notion may prove a bit difficult for modern western culture where men have been largely emasculated under the guise of equality for women. In point of fact, a study published by the University of Sheffield in England revealed that women on birth control pills are more attracted to effeminate men. They in essence begin to want a male version of themselves. A cursory look at the pop stars of today reveals a decidedly androgynous bent in preference by the younger set, most of whom are on the pill. Bogart, Brando, and Gable wouldn't get very far with today's "modern" woman.

Yet the Hebrews of St. Matthew's day would have understood perfectly what it meant that Joseph was the virum of Mary. He was her protector; her champion; the leader of the family. That he had this position for the mother of Christ placed him in a status of high esteem and importance. He was much more than just a stepfather or ancillary character of the nativity story.

Finally there is this interesting word, natus. This word literally means to be produced spontaneously; to come into existence; to spring forth, grow and live. Mary, full of grace, was the chosen one to be the conduit for God incarnate, the Christ, to come into human history. How logical and appropriate that hers is the last human being's name mentioned in this line of succession detailed in Matthew's gospel. The last is first, indeed.

And do not consider this genealogy a small thing to hear: for truly it is a marvelous thing that God should descend to be born of a woman, and to have as His ancestors David and Abraham.
St. John Chrysostom


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