First Reading: II Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16
Epistle: Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22
Gospel: Matthew 1:16,18-21, 24a
It was not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world, but through the righteousness that comes from faith.-Romans 4:13
Son of David
The Gospel according to St. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Our Lord, starting with Abraham. The beginning verse of today’s Gospel reading, “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ” (1:16) is the end of that genealogy. St. Matthew, who was writing for a Jewish audience, was making the argument that Our Lord is the fulfillment of all the promises made by God first to Abraham and later to David, as heard in the first reading from the second book of Samuel (or Second Kings if you are reading the Douay-Rheims). “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm…And I will make his royal throne firm forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” (7:13b-14a,16)
This starts, of course, as a prophecy about David’s son Solomon carrying on his dynasty, but David’s throne and kingdom enduring forever are fulfilled in Our Lord. In the Gospel, after the genealogy, the angel appears to St. Joseph in a dream and refers to him as “son of David,” a title indicating his royal lineage which will be applied to Our Lord when He begins His messianic ministry.
A Righteous Man
St. Matthew also describes St. Joseph as “a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame” (1:18). The RSV translate the phrase as “a just man and unwilling to expose her to shame.” The two different conjunctions share the whole meaning of the otherwise almost identical sentences. In the reading from the Lectionary, it sounds like St. Joseph being unwilling to expose her to shame is a contradiction of his description as righteous. How can this be?
When we read the term “righteous” in Scripture, it is referring to, strictly speaking, adherence to the Law of Moses. St. Matthew is telling the readers that St. Joseph strictly followed the Mosaic Law. According to the Law, with his betrothed found to be pregnant with a child who was not his, St. Joseph could have submitted her to judgment before a rabbinical court, which could have resulted in her being stoned to death. Even if it did not go that far, St. Joseph publically “putting her away” would have caused her a great deal of shame. Rather, St. Joseph resolves to not do that, but to put her away “quietly” that is, without giving an official reason for the divorce, which was within his rights, according to the Law.
Our Father in Faith
Thus, St. Joseph is an excellent example of what St. Paul describes in his Epistle to the Romans: the righteousness that comes from faith. (4:13) Non-Catholics try to use these verses as an argument for salvation sola fide but St. Paul is not saying that righteousness according to the Law is useless but that it is not enough. St. Paul, as a “Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6) would have been familiar with this viewpoint, and it is clear that it is to what he is referring in his epistle. Here, St. Paul is also saying that Gentiles can now be considered descendants of Abraham as well because his righteousness was based on faith. Thus, anyone who has faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of the promises made to his ancestors Abraham and David, can be considered a descendant of Abraham, by faith.