Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 19 March 2021, during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24. NB: Please read the text.
Today is a day of great joy for the Archdiocese of Cape Town. Dcn Rui Henriques will be ordained priest. We ask that all keep him in prayer – that his priesthood will bring much joy and fulfilment to him, to his family, to those he will serve and to the Church.
And now for our text: In the brief gospel passage for today, the name Joseph is used five times while references to Mary and to Jesus occur three times each. According to the laws which presided over the composition of ancient texts this is significant. Repetition is the mother of all rhetoric and the repetition of the name Joseph is strategic in this text as it will be in Matthew 2:13-23. In both cases the emphasis is on the election of Joseph by God to fulfil a precise function and the obedience of Joseph even against cultural norms and societal expectations. In both cases Joseph does exactly what he was commanded to do. Doing the will of God was paramount in his life. Peer pressure does not weaken a just man’s resolve. Later on Jesus was to say: “my food is to do the will of the one who sent me” (John 4:34).
Joseph shows us what obedience is all about. It does not have to make sense. It is an aspect of faith. In the family context, as in the case of any situation where children are involved, it is about celebrating innocence and protecting the vulnerable. Today we commemorate Joseph as husband of Mary. He is the one who took her home “as his wife” (cf. Matthew 1:20). The function of every husband is to collaborate with his wife in nurturing the life given to them by God. The Bible is clear – Joseph has to name the Child. In the Hebrew tradition that role was reserved for the father. But here, God gives Joseph the name by which the Child will be known. So it is God who is the Father, but fatherhood in the Bible is not only reserved for the one who generates life – it is also relational. Anyone doing for the Child what God will have him do is de facto father to that child. And so Joseph is allowed to pronounce the name Jesus when the time came. To him was entrusted the task of taking care of God’s Word.
Today’s feast seriously challenges present day attitudes to masculinity. Masculinity in our time is associated with physical attributes such as sheer strength and an unrelenting show of victorious escapades. We have not yet learnt that bravery is not about not having fear – it is more about coping with fear, and in the face of fear of doing the right thing. Strength is not about not having weakness – it is more about having the strength to show one’s weakness. We still need to learn to salute the soldier in us whose strength is not to fight. God’s recipe for war-like attitudes is found in Isaiah 2:4 where we are encouraged to turn swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Imagine if we could convert our instruments of war into mechanisms which produce food. Imagine if national budgets are measured not by defence spending but by caring for the vulnerable. Yes indeed – the feast of Joseph is important if civilisation is to make progress.
Let us pray: Lord teach us the gentleness of strength and strength of gentleness. Help us to build a just and humane society where innocence is honoured and the vulnerable are protected. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Blessing].