Today’s Mass readings can be found here.
Imagine for a moment you were planning on buying a new house. You did an extensive search, looked at the neighborhood, checked up on the school system, and looked at the crime statistics. You find a beautiful house, in a quiet neighborhood, but close to all of the stores. It seems like the perfect house. You talk it over with your friends and family, you go to your banker and get the money you need for the mortgage. Everything seems to be falling into place. So, you take the leap, sign the contract, and prepare to move. Shortly before the closing, your inspector comes to you and tells you, “I have some bad news for you. The house is not all it seems — there is something growing inside the house and we don’t really know where it came from.” So, you think to yourself, “well, my purchase of this house was dependent on it passing inspection and it didn’t, so, I will just cancel the contract to buy the house. I will call my lawyer in the morning.” But, that night you go to sleep and you have a dream and an angel of the Lord appears to you in that dream telling you, “Don’t be afraid to buy that house. That stuff that is growing inside the house is the ingredient humanity needs to cure cancer. Go, buy that house, and take care of what is growing inside it!”
Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone came to me and told me that this story happened to them, I would be a little skeptical about following the advice of an angel in a dream, when all of the facts seem to indicate that they should not buy this house. I would examine the person carefully to determine whether or not they were open to receiving the will of the Lord as a mystic would, or if they were just a little crazy.
But, this is what happened to St. Joseph. He had contracted marriage with Mary, but in the year that was customary to wait before the wife would come to live with him, she was found pregnant. She must have been adulterous, and therefore it is right to divorce her, according to the Law of Moses. Then the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, told him not to be afraid, and he went off, took Mary into his house, and protected her and the Christ child. Would we be able to do the same, to trust an angel in a dream? What would Joseph’s friends have thought about this decision when they found out? How did he know to believe this angel in his dream?
The key to understanding how Joseph knew that it was right to believe the angel lies in the detail that St. Matthew provides for us in the Gospel — Joseph was a righteous man, a just man. The audience to which Matthew wrote this Gospel would have known exactly what this meant, what it means to be a just man, a righteous man. They would have thought to Psalm 1, the first psalm, the psalm they would sing very often, which describes to the Jew just what it means to be just. Let me read the beginning of that psalm for you: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the manner of sinners, nor sit in the company of scoffers.” In other words, a just person does not listen to the wisdom of the world, does not surround themselves with people who persist in their sins, and does not surround themselves with gossip.
The psalm continues: “Rather the Law of the Lord is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night.” The Law of the Lord is not merely the Mosaic Law or the Ten Commandments — it would have been the whole first five books of the Bible, the torah. For a Christian, it would be the Gospels. A just person would read, meditate upon the scriptures day and night, and doing this brings them deep joy. The psalm continues: “He is like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in due season; its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers.” A just person drinks in the scriptures as water nourishes a strong, fruitful tree; they are planted near this river of life.
That is what Matthew was describing when he said Joseph was a righteous man. Joseph was a man firmly grounded in God and His Word, he lived his whole life immersed in God, and God was his joy. That is how Joseph knew to believe this angel.
For a just person sees that God is working everywhere in their life, they have discernment, they have trust, they have hope, they have joy. They know how to know what God wants them to do.
If we want to make the right decisions in our lives we must do the same as St. Joseph — be just. If we want to be trusting people, we need to be just. If we want to have hope in our lives, we need to be just. If we want to have joy in our lives, we need to be just. So, let us be just!