Friday, December 16, 2011

Subversive Sexual Relationships: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25)

This is how the birth of Jesus came about.
                When Jesus’ mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, an upright person unwilling to disgrace her, decided to divorce her quietly.
                This was Joseph’s intention when suddenly the angel of God appeared in a dream and said, “Joseph, heir to the House of David, don’t be afraid to wed Mary; it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child. She is to have a son, and you are to name him Jesus – ‘Salvation’ – because he will save the people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what God has said through the prophet:
                                                “The virgin will be with child
                                                   and give birth,
                                                and the child will be named
-  a name which means “God is with us.”
                When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of God had directed, and they went ahead with the marriage. He did not have intercourse with her until she had given birth; she had a son, and they named him Jesus.                                                                                                                            Matthew 1:18-25

My spine shivers when the story from Matthew is read with solemn honor at Christmas time. A love child, conceived in fornication, is going to save us from sin. I am lost in the incongruity that this bastard child will be God’s presence with us. I am further confused when I begin to ponder the validity this story gives to subversive sexual relationships.

According to the passage, Joseph does not even get to enjoy the wedding night. This may indicate that Joseph did not take Mary as his wife for the purpose of child bearing. If Joseph and Mary did not consecrate their marriage for the purpose of pro-creation, then their marriage, according to the Holiness Code of Leviticus, is suspect and flawed.

Interestingly, it is an angel that leads Joseph into a rather queer lifestyle. This angel tells Joseph not to do the manly thing, or the religious thing, or even the expected thing: which of course is what males, in a milieu of patriarchy, are compelled to do. Joseph is asked to enter into a relationship with an alternative form of sexuality when seen from the outside. Of course, when viewed from within – which is the view of Matthew – we experience a nuanced and tender relationship.

If Joseph is odd in his relationship to Mary, he becomes odder in relation to Jesus. Precious little is said in the biblical gospels about Jesus’ years as a child and teenager. However, when we encounter Jesus as an adult we find him to be knowledgeable in the Torah, wise in the ways of God, and mature in his dealings with others – in short a fine young Jewish male. I’m sure due in no small measure to Joseph’s influence on the bastard child.

How queer of God to lay all this before a man in a dream. Queerer still is Joseph who understood the dream and lived a life of relational integrity.

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