THEME: Humane Interpretation of the Law.

BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.


Our gospel text (Matthew 1:18–24) describes the circumstances surrounding the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, especially the complicated predicament in which Saint Joseph finds himself when he learns that his fiancée, Mary, is pregnant. And Joseph, being a just man, taught us to judge people’s actions with love, compassion, and mercy by the way he handled the situation. In addition, it highlights the significant role Joseph played in the plan of salvation.

In divine providence, St. Joseph was chosen to incorporate Jesus into the family tree of David. When Joseph, who was a descendant of David, married Mary, Jesus became legally a descendant of David and the ultimate fulfillment of the promises God made to Abraham and David in the covenant (Isaiah 11:1; Psalm 89; Luke 1:31–33).

Furthermore, the intervention of the Spirit (Matthew 1:20) in the virginal conception of Jesus is a testimony to the divine Sonship of Jesus (Mark 1:11; Matthew 11:27; 16:16). Jesus is the Son of God, and God, the Father, is his father. Joseph is the legal father of Jesus, since he accepted Mary and her son.

The first stage of marriage, according to Jewish custom at the time, was betrothal, followed by a second stage in which the husband took his wife into his home. Betrothal was a legal agreement that conferred the couple the status of man and wife and could only be broken by death or the man divorcing his wife. Moreover, any infidelity by the woman during the betrothal was considered adultery. As a result, Joseph was already Mary’s legal husband when Jesus was conceived.


Additionally, it was customary that no Middle Eastern man could claim another’s possessions, including a child in the womb conceived by another man. Joseph wanted to marry, but he was torn between Jewish law (the Torah), customs, and his love for Mary.

It is assumed that everyone has faced the challenge of balancing strict adherence to the letter of the law with adherence to the spirit of the law. However, as an old maxim goes, “the law is made for man, not man for the law.” When a law, custom, or tradition no longer serves its purpose, it is amended or changed, especially when human lives are at stake.

Mary was pregnant, but not by Joseph. Because of this, Mary would be considered an adulteress and could be stoned to death or subjected to public humiliation (Deuteronomy 22:23–24). But Joseph, being a just man, reconciles the law with his unwavering love for Mary.

To adapt to the times, save lives, and better serve the people, it is sometimes necessary to reinterpret laws, customs, and traditions. Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary in private to spare her as much public shame as possible is a good example of how to apply law and custom in a humane way.

The beautiful prayer “Christ Has No Body Now But Yours,” attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila, is worth some thought. The angel announced to Joseph about Mary, “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Today, think of how God can use you to serve his people and save lives like Saint Joseph did.

In some parts of the world, women and children are still being rejected and abandoned by their families, friends, and communities because they became pregnant or conceived out of wedlock. Let us pray for them. They are deserving of love and compassion.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph intercede for us. Have a blessed Advent season and a wonderful Sunday.


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