Matthew 1:18-24, Fourth Sunday of Advent
There’s painfully little written about Joseph in the Gospels. We know he was a carpenter, but this from a very passing comment by people who were trying to make out his son, Jesus, when he finally returned to his hometown. “Isn’t this the son of the carpenter?” they said. That’s when we knew what Joseph was. Anyhow, Joseph is my favorite saint, like he is of thousands. I’m a bit shy to say but I’ll say so just the same, I often pray to him to be there when it’s time for me to go, that he would care enough to make me sundo.
I don’t think Joseph would mind the bother. I’ve always thought of Joseph as a life interrupted. The Gospels say he was an upright man, and I bet he was. I imagine Joseph as a man who lived by the rules, and being a carpenter, I suppose, really helped him along. For Joseph must have thought in the rules of applied math and physics, in precise shapes and sizes. I bet he could envision a plan—a table this big in a space that small, a shelf this high on a wall that wide, a bed, a chair. And then he could make it materialize just so, or, discard it and start over. Carpenters and craftsmen in those days were no aristocrats, but they weren’t dirt poor either. They made a decent living. So, with all of this, Joseph’s life must’ve really been going on an even keel.
Until God interrupts him.
To father the divine son? So not in his plans, a monkey wrench, in fact. You need more than applied math and practical physics to deal with that. And there’s no plan you could clearly envision from start to finish, if there’s a finish to it at all. You don’t fix the son of God the way you fix a shelf onto a wall. You don’t mold him into a Messiah, as you would chisel and whittle wood, no. And you can’t “discard” the son of God and start over if he’s not turning out the way you want. And by the way, before all of that, to marry a pregnant single woman? That’s moral uprightness unhinged. So, our man Joseph was a life unbelievably interrupted. But he said “yes”; reluctantly though he did. He still said “yes”.
One of the earliest reasons I wanted to be a priest was because I didn’t want to be interrupted anymore. I think I shared this with you before—all throughout high school, whenever mom and dad quarreled, it always fell upon me to bring them back together. Always is no exaggeration: every other month? Many times, towards Christmas, even. I did manage to put them back together every single time, and I was just in high school! But it was short-lived because the peace would be interrupted again. So, I secretly swore I would go to Manila for college, be a doctor, then a priest, and live a more relatively uninterrupted life. But even as a Jesuit, whenever I’d go on home visits, I’d still be the problem-solver, this time with an expanded clientele: my kuya and our bunso thrown in for good measure. And to this day, sisters and brothers, there is not one time when I think about mom and not regret that I did not visit home for two whole years while she was getting sicker and weaker—because I did not want to be “interrupted” by family woes. After all, I was doing the work of God in Manila! I was busy “priest-ing”!
There are things we do that we consider very important, from which we don’t like to be interrupted because, well, they’re what we do as our life-work, as our self-offering to our family, our contribution to the Church, our giving to the world—like parenting and “priest-ing” & being a church-going Catholic. We consider them as our God-given mission, into which we throw our entire selves willingly, wholeheartedly. In fact, by now, our life is pretty much set on auto-pilot and we’d like to believe that we’re cruising along God’s gulf stream.
Yet, every Advent, when the Annunciation to Joseph comes around, Joseph gently reminds me that to be continuously grounded in God, I must allow myself to still be interrupted by God, even if it means to stop, make a little detour, go down a bothersome path for a bit, even it’s so not in my plans. Joseph reminds me that when I no longer want to be bothered from the work God cut out for me, there’s that hair of a chance that it’s no longer all about God or about neighbor, but all about me…katulad noong dalawang taon na natiis kong hindi dalawin ang mommy, kasi ayaw ko nang paabala sa problema ng pamilya. Dalawang taon na patuloy kong inihihingi ng patawad, kahit alam kong pinatawad na ako ng mommy, at pinatawad na rin ng Diyos; all because I didn’t want to be bothered.
When God comes to interrupt us from the mission he himself got us started in the first place, maybe what he’s trying to say is something like this: “Excuse me, but could you help me with something for a moment? Somebody needs to be saved. And I’d like for you and me to do it together.” And reading the impatient incredulity on our faces, but before we could say anything, God says, “Don’t worry about what you’d have to stop doing or to leave behind for now. I’ve got my eye on that, trust me. It’s just that somebody needs saving. And I choose you to come do it with me.” I would like to believe that when we allow God to interrupt us to save someone else, God is also in the process of saving us, too. Everything God does, he does for a reason. Even his interruption is salvific. In Joseph’s saving Mary from shame, which is a divine interruption, God saves Joseph and the world.
There’s this little story I read on Reader’s Digest long, long ago. A pastor came to visit with a single mother who has not shown up at church for sometime. She’d been busy tending to her 3-year-old daughter. While pastor and mom cheerfully chatted in the kitchen, the little girl would come and say, “Mommy, mommy, come outside, there’s a buttehfwy.” So mom excused herself, went out with the child, and came back in to resume the conversation. That went on for a bit; “Mommy, mommy, come see the fwower;” “Mommy, come out and see the twee!” In and out, the mom went, excusing herself, coming back in, then picking up from where the conversation left off. Finally, the pastor said, “Don’t you get weary going in and out like that?” And the mom said, “Well, I brought her into the world. The least I could do is to let her to show it to me!”
When we allow ourselves to be interrupted by God, who knows? It might be an awakening to yet a new face of the Messiah that could still make all the difference in our life. Very soon, it will be Christmas, the birthday of our Messiah. We have a Savior, sisters and brothers, because God cared enough to be interrupted from his heavenly estate, to be with us as one of us. “You are no bother to me,” God could be saying. “Where there is deep love, there is no bother.” Amen.