“ARE YOU SERIOUS?” (Mt 1:18-25): 18 December 2007 (Tuesday)
One of the least known movies on the life of Christ is “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” directed by controversial Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini. Hailed as a masterpiece since its release in 1964, the film uses only scenes and words lifted from the first gospel.
The film, however, opens with no words. It begins with a close-up of an embarrassed Mary, and then it cuts abruptly to that of a distraught Joseph. The next shot reveals the reason for their painful silence: As shown in the photo above, Mary is pregnant, and Joseph knows that the child is not his.
The gospel is deceptively silent about Joseph. We’re simply told that since he was a righteous man, he decided not to expose Mary and instead opted to divorce her quietly. And we know that he eventually returned to Mary after an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.
It’s a story we all know by heart and have no difficulty accepting. But as readers of the Word of God, we should pay attention not only to what the gospel says, but also to what it doesn’t say–the way Pasolini’s film does in its opening sequence. In this case, the gospel is silent about how Joseph must have felt when he first discovered Mary’s condition and how he made his decision after his dream.
I don’t know about you, but thinking about this story, I can’t help but ask a question Joseph might have asked God, a question I also sometimes catch myself asking him especially when I find myself at the raw end of a deal: “Are you serious? Do you really expect me to do all this?”
Think about it: Joseph is all set to marry his fiancée, but one day he is devastated to find her bearing someone else’s child. No amount of explanation from Mary makes any sense to him. So he walks away from Mary bewildered, betrayed, and heartbroken. He does not demand justice for himself by having Mary exposed and punished. Instead he swallows his anger, and for the sake of Mary, settles for a quiet separation.
That’s already a lot to demand from a guy like Joseph. But what does God do? Instead of letting him fade from the scene to nurse his broken heart in peace, God turns Joseph’s life further upside down by explaining to him what happened and asking him to take back Mary plus the child. And he sends his message through a dream!
Again, I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually take my dreams seriously, at least not enough to do what they tell me to do, especially if it’s going to change my life. But Joseph, who must have had his questions and uncertainties even after the dream, decides to follow his dream–except in this case, in a very real sense, it is not his dream, but God’s.
Of course it’s still far from over: When Mary is ready to give birth to the alleged “Son of the Most High,” Mary and Joseph learn that the Most High has forgotten to make hotel reservations in Bethlehem. Imagine Joseph’s worries, fears, and doubts as they run around looking for a place for the night, turned away at every door they knock on. And just when you think the worst is over and they’re ready to go home to Nazareth, another dream warns them of danger and they have to pack the little that they have and escape like fugitives to Egypt to hide there till God knows when. And after they return to Galilee, you would have wished for a peaceful life for them–except that there are indications in the gospels that the neighbors have always suspected that Jesus is an illegitimate child. Again, there are no lines in any of the four gospels about how Joseph must have felt about all this, but we need to read between the lines.
I don’t know. Joseph’s story shows us that it’s really tough following God’s will. It’s tough not only because the mission we’re given is itself often already difficult in the first place, but also because we don’t usually even enjoy the consolation of being sure that we’re actually doing God’s will. Every step of the way as we try to follow God’s will, we can be plagued with doubts, uncertainties, and questions, and every once in a while, when things get really tough, we can’t help but turn to God to ask him, “Are you serious?! Are you sure you need me to do this?”
Maybe that’s why they call it “following” God’s will. “Following” doesn’t just refer to obeying God and doing what he wants us to do; it also means always falling a step behind, always at best stumbling to catch up with the One whom we are trying to follow. So the real question is: Will we choose to follow him even without complete understanding or certainty?