Who is that guy, anyway?
told by Deborah
This is how Jesus Christ came to be born: His mother Mary was pledged in marriage to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
Being a righteous man, Joseph was unwilling to disgrace her publicly, and so decided to send her away quietly. But after he considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to embrace Mary as your wife, for the One conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Another Father’s Day has come and gone. Although it has always been the lesser celebration to the one dedicated to mothers, this last one seemed unusually low-key. Poor Dad: the forgotten man.
It’s the same with Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord Jesus: talk about unappreciated! We tend to ignore him, except at Christmas, when we add his figure to our Nativity scenes — off to one side from Mary and the Infant, almost as an afterthought. When the season is ended, Papa Joseph is wrapped in tissue and packed away for another year; a minor footnote in the story of our Lord.
But that’s certainly not how it was in real life — not then, and not now. Joseph mattered, fathers matter; fathers make a difference in our lives. Men are people, too.
And often quite exemplary people.
Yet sometimes we forget that.
Part of the recent ambivalence toward fathers has, I believe, come about through the revelations of the #MeToo movement. While deserving of our concern and active efforts to prosecute and prevent, we can become blinded by #TooMuch attention: when a single issue takes precedence in the news, it begins to seem as if that’s All There Is. We start to forget that for every despicable Hollywood hotshot there are thousands of decent and caring men. We begin to think that to value and celebrate good fathers is to somehow empower or excuse males who do evil.
But that is unfair, unkind, short-sighted, and possibly even dangerous. Human beings are influenced by our environment; we accept and imitate what we see — both the good and the bad. (Case in point: shortly after binge-watching multiple Miss Marple Mysteries it was pointed out to me that I had started calling people “my dear”!) This is especially powerful if we are not exposed to other behavior patterns that could challenge our thinking: the one type we are told of becomes the only type we expect. It becomes the only type we imagine. The only type we believe in.
In confronting evil, we must beware that it does not become the only story we tell. It is essential that we insist on the reality of Another Way; that we equally describe and celebrate what the scriptures call “righteousness”: showing compassion, doing what is kind and fair and good.
With open hearts and Christian compassion, we are called to expect the best from one another, to believe in the possibility — the likelihood! — that others, men and women alike, will do what is right. Wickedness should be seen as an anomaly, not a standard of conduct.
Joseph had options. He could have sent Mary away, discretely, to eliminate (his) embarrassment; his apparently erring fiancée could be returned to her parents’ home; there she and the baby would have remained, living out their lives as shameful outcasts. Dismissing her as one would a servant who failed to fulfill her job duties, he could simply and easily free himself from any responsibility.
Joseph was faced with societal pressures via the Court of Public Opinion. If the marriage went forward, there would be winking and smirking and whispering about that woman and her child. There would be talk about Joseph. There would be questions and speculations.
But Joseph was a righteous man; a man who heard God’s word and was thereby inspired to do what was right, rather than what was easy. He chose to listen to Wisdom’s voice, heeding her call to compassion and kindness, following her counsel of courage and integrity rather than cultural conformity. Joseph opened his heart and his home to Mary and the child who was not his own. He was a good man.
While Joseph’s adopted son was unique, Joseph wasn’t.
Many men have consistently behaved with integrity and compassion; countless fathers have loved, encouraged, supported, and protected their families. There are single fathers who have nurtured their children, raising them into fine, upstanding adults; others have been exemplary, loving fathers to those who were not their biological children. There have been and are many men who are beloved and loving models of “righteousness” to their own families, to the friends of their children, and nurturing “father figures” to their communities.
For every deadbeat dad there are hundreds of thousands who are fully involved with their children’s lives, even despite divorces and distances. Most men are good guys. To believe otherwise is as wrong-headed as any other form of prejudice; it is to judge all on the evidence of a few bad eggs.
Recently I’ve begun to wonder if the pattern of assigning a sort of collective guilt to all men — as rapists-in-waiting, oppressors of women — is a contemporary version of “original sin.” Rather than attributing Our Fall from Paradise to female sexuality, it substitutes male sexuality as the cause for every fault and failing of our society; as if everything would be just wonderful, if it weren’t for those (awful) men!
As any person of understanding and compassion realizes, there is no locus of wickedness, no single “evil” (person, gender, creature) that is the Source of All Our Problems. We are the originators and authors of our troubles: our fears and our hatreds, our divisiveness, our smug self-certainty and unyielding condemnations, our unwillingness to love — except those who love us… the more we set ourselves apart from one another, the more we distance ourselves from the Gracious Light and Life, the further we Fall away from paradise.
Fatherhood as an admirable estate; men can and do nurture, encourage, support, and love their families — biological, adoptive, and “simply” embraced. To allow ourselves to be misled by the evil conduct of a minority into believing that most men are wicked is deluded and dangerous thinking. It is to erect an idol to evildoers, establishing them as the pattern of “what men are.” It is to deny the goodness and grace we proclaim to be inherent in all human persons. It is hurtful and hateful to the innocent.
Let us take time out to remember and celebrate the “forgotten man”: the good men, the devoted fathers, those who love and cherish their children. These are the “real men,” and the vast majority. And in their honor may we strive to follow the example of father Joseph by choosing to be “righteous.” In attitudes and acts of compassion, care, and encouragement, may we look for the best, expect the best, and encourage the best in everyone — women and men, alike.
May Christ’s grace and healing love abound,
Look for examples of righteous men.