This time of year, you can’t turn on a radio without hearing someone sincerely sing the question, Mary, did you know? It’s a beautiful song with a haunting melody, but if you read Luke 1, it’s clear. She knew. She was all in from the start.
The real question is…what did Joseph know and when did he know it?
Because Matthew 1:18 says that Mary ‘was found out to be pregnant’ after they were engaged but before they were married. It goes on to say that because Joseph was ‘faithful to the law’ he made up his mind to divorce her quietly. And I wonder–how did Joseph learn Mary was pregnant? Did Mary come and tell him and try to make him understand? Did someone else find out and tell him, and if so–did he try to talk to her at all? Did he listen and not believe–or was he so certain he already knew what was going on that he didn’t bother to ask? When the angel appeared to him in a dream and told him Mary’s pregnancy was from God–was that new news, or confirmation that Mary’s improbable story was true?
My whole life I’ve been taught to celebrate Joseph’s compassionate decision to put her aside quietly–to see it as proof that he was a very, very good man, to see it as the most anyone could expect of a righteous God-fearing man. But now I wonder if we’ve been reading this part of the story all wrong. Is Matthew trying to get us to celebrate Joseph’s righteousness–or to warn us, that even our most faithful and righteous choices can be in opposition to what God is trying to do in the world?
Is Joseph a model we try to live up to–or a warning we try to learn from? It all depends on what he knew and when he knew it.