Holiness and Sinfulness

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-3
18 December 2018
Jeremiah 23:5-8///Matthew 1:18-25

             One of my unforgettable experiences in my parish is when a husband and wife quarreled during the baptism of their child.  When I asked the father the name to be given to their son right before baptism, he gave another name and instantly, his wife hit him with her elbow and snapped, “who’s that baby again!?”

             In the rites of baptism, it is the father who is asked by the minister on the name to be given to the child.  It is the father who gives the name because he is the origin of life, the giver of life; hence, every child uses the father’s family name to show his paternity.  This is in essence the reason God asked Joseph “to be not afraid to take Mary as his wife” so he would be the legal father of Jesus Christ.  Though it is very clear in the account of Matthew yesterday and today that Jesus is truly the Son of God and not of any human, the evangelist shows us how through Joseph, Jesus belongs by law – legally – to the house of David as fulfillment of God’s promise.  At the same time, in giving name to Jesus, Joseph proves more than ever his holiness which is the meaning of his description as a “righteous” or “just” man.  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.  Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly (Mt.1:18-19).

             Holiness for the Jews or being righteous and just is primarily obedience to the Laws of God handed down through Moses.  However, during the time of Christ this perception became so limited to mere obedience to the letters of the law that even Jesus later on would try to correct.  His legal father, St. Joseph, in fact would exactly do that when he showed that holiness is a constant dialogue with God when one is nourished by His words like a tree planted near the streams of water, bearing fruits of love for God and for others.  This imagery is found in the Book of Psalms that says men who are just and righteous are those who “delight in the law of the Lord, like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers” (Ps.1:2-3).  When St. Joseph decided to quietly divorce Mary after learning about her pregnancy, it was the height of his love for her as he was very willing to walk away and let her marry whoever fathered that child in her womb than subject her to public shame and humiliation as their laws prescribed.  In that aspect alone, we find St. Joseph very holy indeed!  But it did not stop there:  after being informed by the angel in a dream of the divine nature of Mary’s pregnancy, St. Joseph proved anew his holiness with his deep love for God by eventually taking Mary as his wife that paved the way for the first Christmas we now celebrate.  St. Joseph’s holiness shone brightly in this aspect when his love for Mary was never diminished but even deepened when his love for God moved him to take “his wife home.”  Here are the fine prints of St. Joseph’s holiness that in his love for God, he had to take Mary as his wife and in doing that, he eventually brought forth in a sense the birth of Jesus Christ.  Every time we love God, it always leads us to love others too.  It is when we live in love that Jesus Christ truly comes into our lives and Christmas happens always.

             But there is something bigger and better, lovelier and holier to unfold in St. Joseph’s role as legal father of Jesus Christ.  Notice how Matthew repeated the verb “to name” twice:  “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Mt.1:21)” and “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel had commanded him and took his wife into his home.  He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and named him Jesus (Mt.1:24-25).”   Giving of names in general connotes authority.  In Genesis, God gave man the authority to give names to the animals He had created.  Parents give names to their children as a sign of their authority.  Bullies in classrooms and anywhere always try to assert their authority by giving funny names to their victims while lovers always have unique names given to their beloved as terms of endearment.  In this respect, St. Joseph did not merely give up that authority of giving name but must have also realized within him the awesome reality of things about to unfold in the birth of Mary’s child who “will save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21).

             Three weeks ago I read in the news how a popular American airlines apologized to a mother when their ground crew at the boarding gate laughed and insulted her daughter named “Abcde” which is pronounced as Ab-city.  I have baptized a baby in my parish with a similar name, “Wxyz”.  The parents never complained or filed charges against me when I questioned them for their choice of name for their son, warning them of negative repercussions in the future.  Giving of names is a very serious duty among the Jews (and it should be for everyone!) because a name always indicates the person’s mission.  In giving the child of Mary the name “Jesus” that means “God is my salvation”, St. Joseph must have realized not only the mission of Christ but most of all fully accepted it as one that the world needs so badly.  Recall that during the ministry of Jesus, religious leaders of His time always questioned His forgiving of sins because only God can forgive sins.  Problem with them like the Pharisees and the scribes, they have refused to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God sent to forgive sins.  Right from the start during his dream, St. Joseph was already aware of the mission of Jesus Christ which is to forgive sins.  And his obedience to the instruction of giving the name “Jesus” is indicative of his holiness because the first step to being holy is to admit our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness by God.  This is the problem of the world today, the lack of sense of sinfulness among most of us even among us priests as shown by the sex scandals.  The mark of true holiness is the humility to admit and accept one’s sinfulness and need for forgiveness.  When Pope Francis was interviewed for the first time for a magazine, he was asked how he would describe himself and his quick answer was, “I am a sinner.”
       Sin is a turning away from God, the absence and failure to love.  It is the opposite of holiness which is being filled with God.  Unless we realize that our sinfulness is the first and most important thing needed to be fixed within us, we will never move forward, we will never grow, and we will never experience Christ’s coming.  This is the very reason Christ was born, to forgive our sins so that we may return and go back to God who is our fundamental relationship in life.  No healing, no life in general will ever come and prosper when this relationship with God is out of order because of sins.  St. Joseph is a righteous or just man, a holy man, because in recognizing the need for the forgiveness of our sins, he cooperated with God in His plans by naming the child of Mary as “Jesus” and that is why we now celebrate Christmas.  God bless you!  AMEN. Fr.NicanorF.LalogII,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, .Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
*Photo by author, Church of St. Joseph at Nazareth, the Holy Land, April 2017.

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