STAYING ON THE COURSE
This year in my Christmas reflection, I am drawn to thinking about the family that Jesus was born into, comprising his mother Mary, and his father Joseph of the House of David. Joseph, who is perhaps more accurately described as Jesus’ foster-father, does not receive much mention in the Bible and no words of his are recorded in the only two Gospels where he is mentioned. Because of the low profile of Joseph in the Bible, nothing much is known about him, save that he was a carpenter who was betrothed to Mary, and that he was called upon to give his protection and love to the virgin Mary and her child. The discovery about Mary’s pregnancy, which is recorded in both the Bible and the Qu’ran, must have been a huge shock to both Mary and Joseph.
Some 600 years after the event, Mary’s confusion about the virgin birth was recorded in the Qur’an in the Sunnah named after her:
“He (the angel) said, ‘Nay, I am only a messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of holy son.’
She said, ‘ How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?’
He said: ‘So (it will be): your Lord says, ‘That is easy for Me: and We (wish) to appoint him as a sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’: it is a matter (so) decreed.”
(Surah Maryam 19-21)
How would any man react upon finding out that his betrothed was pregnant when he had not touched her at all?
From what little that is written about Joseph, we see that he was a man of admirable character. He was a just yet compassionate man; despite the shame, the hurt, and the anger that he must have experienced when he suspected that Mary had been untrue to him, he planned to break off the engagement quietly rather than expose her to public humiliation (she would most likely have been stoned), according to the Gospel of Matthew. He was a man of quiet conviction and integrity; when he received the message that he was to protect Mary, he took on the task and never wavered from the course. This course, as we know would prove to be difficult and dangerous at times, from the humiliation of a stable delivery for his wife, to the perilous escape to Egypt. He was a responsible husband and father, who discharged his duties to his family with patience, courage, wisdom and strength. He was the male role model in whose care Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52), and from whom Jesus learnt his trade. Joseph may have been silent, but he played a pivotal and crucial role in God’s plan.
More than two thousand years on, we have much to learn from the example set by this quiet man of solid character. He was a man who just got on and did what he believed was right. In today’s world rife with corruption and crime, we need to remind ourselves that there are still people who believe in quietly doing what is right. Many people of this day belong to the ‘instant gratification’ generation who do not appreciate the value of working and waiting for what they want, and who place their own needs above everyone else’s. We need to allow the simple values back into our lives in order to live more meaningfully.
As for staying on the course, how many of us and our leaders remain faithful to our causes, no matter the public ridicule we may have to endure? In this day and age, principles take a backseat for many in their quest for riches and fame. Some political leaders jump from one party to another for personal gain faster than a frog in a boiling pot and many indulge in underhanded practices to ensure victory. Thankfully, however, there are still many for whom principles and the desire to do what is right set their course in life and dictate their actions. These are the members of political parties, social activists, civil society, NGOs and also individuals who continue to speak up for the rights of the downtrodden, the marginalized and the victimized, even when intimidated and threatened with arrests. Obstacles may be thrown in our paths, and the road may seem daunting and long, but we must persevere in doing what is right, with firm conviction in our cause.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that there are many, who like Joseph, are the silent but strong support systems without whose backing and strength the frontline fighters could not function effectively. Some are present as our friends, others offer advice and ideas, some contribute financially to our projects, and yet others fortify us with encouragement and prayers. Members of our families are the pillars of strength who share our burdens as well as our joys. How thankful we are for all these buttresses in our lives who shore us up and sustain us each day.
My friends tell me that Catholics regard Joseph as the patron saint of social justice, amongst other things. How apt it is, for those of us who are engaged in the struggle for social justice and fairness to take inspiration from this man who kept the faith and who carried out his duties with infinite patience and conviction. Let us all remain steadfast to our beliefs and stay on the course.
I wish my Christian friends a blessed Christmas, and to all, a Happy New Year.
N70 BA’ KELALAN