Welcome to Green Reflections, the blog dedicated to reflections on the readings from the Roman Catholic Sunday Lectionary, with particular sensitivity to the needs of the earth. Use this blog to deepen your own awareness of our Creator's desires for the planet and ways that we can appreciate God's goals for the earth,giving it the loving care that it deserves.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
The Sunday following Christmas always brings our focus to the Holy Family of Nazareth. Our readings today are filled with a variety of admonitions about respect, obedience, peace and tolerance – all virtues that are needed to live in a Christian household that strives to grow in the Spirit of Jesus.
Instead of focusing our attention on the list of recommended virtues, I’d like to focus our attention on something more subtle: the active role of Joseph and how he made his decision to settle the family in Nazareth. According to Matthew’s gospel, an angel visited Joseph in his dream and told him to, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Joseph did as the angel commanded but when he heard that Archelaus was the ruler in Judea, Joseph made a decision to move back to Nazareth in the northern mountain regions of Galilee.
One needs to know something about this Archelaus to understand why Joseph would have made the decision to travel four more days to Nazareth instead of moving to Bethlehem, the city of his ancestors. Certainly first century Christians would have known what we have to look up in history books or from The Dictionary of the Bible as I did to understand the story better. According to this book, Archelaus was cruel like his father, Herod the Great, but he did not have his father’s competence. Therefore, his rule brought with it riots and disorders with the Jews and Rome did not give him the title of king, like his father, but only the title of ethnarch. Joseph would have known this, and it would seem that Joseph regarded Archelaus as a dangerous ruler whom he did not want to encounter.
I had to wonder how Joseph would have known about Archelaus since he lived in Egypt before the move to Nazareth. There were no daily papers in his time. If he were like other men of his trade, Joseph would have gone to the local pub at the end of the day’s work before going home to dinner. Pubs functioned as a place for men to share news and evaluate what was happening in their homeland. Its purpose was political, the place where the people could become informed about the news and, of course, decide how best to respond to it. I like thinking of Joseph as the kind of man who had his ear to the ground, aware of the world around him. He was a man who kept current with the news, not a simpleton who lived life without a context. Seeing Joseph as the leader of his family, a savvy man who made decisions with all the information that he could amass, gives us insight into why God chose him to foster Jesus.
Joseph is not only a good role model for all parents who raise children in an exceedingly complex world but Joseph is also a good standard for environmental activists. We need to stay attuned to the data available to us in order to make good decisions. I am fortunate to live in an area where there are two local papers. The town paper is good for keeping up with local events, but the Los Angeles Times is a newspaper that gives much greater detail to international events and to environmental news. What I see reported in the newspaper in the morning is often the news that is being responded to by environmental groups in the afternoon or the next day. Finding reliable sources of information is as valuable to us as it was to Joseph and the Holy Family. When we want to take action that will have a positive impact on the world around us, we need solid data and analysis. This is why I’ve grown to rely on environmental groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others for my information.
The gospel focuses us on the informed choices that Joseph made for his family. We need to do as much for our families and our world. If we have not already begun the habit of reading good sources on the Internet or in news publications, this Sunday is a call to action. Sign up for news alerts at one or more of the organizations listed below on this blog. If we already use good resources, then the invitation is to use intelligently the information we have available to us for action. Joseph did not sit on his hands when the angel announced the death of King Herod, he was ready for action. Let us be ready for action on behalf of the Earth by keeping our ear to the ground, like Joseph, and make responsible decisions.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Here we are just seven days before Christmas, while thoughts of shopping, decorating and parties to attend fill our days and nights. It can be hard to remain in Advent while the world around us is already celebrating Christmas and the air ways are filled with caroling. It is this final Sunday of Advent, however, when our liturgical focus shifts to St. Joseph, soon to be foster father of Jesus in the story of the Nativity.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. The evangelist meant that Joseph was faithful to the covenant with God and obedient to God’s will expressed in all the commandments and statutes of the Law. Scripture rarely uses this description of the “righteous man” unless it is to single out a particularly virtuous person. For us in the twenty-first century, the description of a righteous man may seem archaic, having nothing to do with us. Indeed, society was strikingly different in first century Palestine from our own western culture.
We know the story. Joseph finds his betrothed wife to be pregnant even though they have had no relations. Beyond the shock of coming face to face with the news that Mary, heretofore considered to be innocent as new fallen snow, was pregnant, Joseph is faced with a conundrum. In his first century culture, a betrothal was s serious legal commitment to marry and the betrothed was already considered his “wife,” even though she still lived at home with her parents. Furthermore, the relationship between Joseph’s family and Mary’s became familial with all the obligations toward one another of family members came with their betrothal. Joseph could not simply “break the engagement.” He would have to divorce her in order to nullify the relationships that the betrothal had created. Furthermore, in this highly patriarchal society, Joseph could not simply take her baby as his own. The infant belonged to another man. In his righteousness, Joseph would have to divorce Mary so that the father of her child could wed her and claim his child. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Joseph was ready to go through with the divorce, honoring the rights of the child’s father, while at the same time divorcing quietly so that Mary’s reputation would not be irreparably harmed. It is not hard to imagine how heartbroken Joseph must have been while he followed the demands of his culture. Yet, he was ready to do the right thing.
Then a surprise element came into the story: an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream claiming that the child’s father was God and Joseph should wed Mary. The angel told Joseph to name the baby Jesus because He would save His people from sin. What a fantastic dream! I’d bet that all of us have had dreams that were fantastic, yet we did not act on them. After all, dreams are the stuff of fantasy, the mind working out life’s events. That was not the case for Joseph. He came from a culture that honored dreams as messages from God. He acted on the dream marrying Mary; and the rest is history.
What I find so striking about Joseph is his freedom to let go of a previously made decision and move in another direction. He was able to let go of religiously and culturally determined values, so that the surprising plan of God could be fulfilled. That was a really “big deal.” Many of us can get hung up on decisions that we’ve made, and refuse to consider alternatives once a decision has been made—even when new information comes to light that can significantly change our perceptions! When moving or changing careers, we tend to be very careful in making decisions. What would we do if the very definitions of right and wrong changed in the midst of our lives? What would we do if we learned that our carefully crafted images of God contradicted who God is? This is the monumental sort of shift that took place for Joseph. The so-called “obvious” sin of Mary was no sin at all! She had not betrayed him. No man had taken what rightfully belonged to Joseph. All of Joseph’s careful adherence to Judaic law was useless in this situation. He had to trust God and live by faith alone. I wonder how many of us could do that.
Today’s gospel passage challenges us to be prepared for God’s unexpected action in our lives. Jesus came as an infant in the most impossible way on the first Christmas, how might he surprise us now? How might God shock our sensibilities? We do not know, of course, but we can practice letting go of preconceived ideas. What if this week we were to surrender our privileged concept of being the zenith of life on our planet? What if we saw ourselves as one among many loved species? What if we surrendered our superior attitude and became servants of creation? Perhaps experiencing ourselves as servants and nobodies would assist us in finding what true greatness is. Maybe we might begin to understand why Jesus insisted that the greatest law of our lives is love. Before Christmas arrives, we can put into practice what Joseph learned: God is a god of surprises and we, puny human beings, will never figure out God or be able to hold in our tiny hands the infinite mind and heart of God. All you and I can do before seeing the Holy One face to face, is to practice love and extend our love to even the most minute creature in our lives.
The Green Nun's Favorite Links
- Audubon Society
- Carbon Footprint Calculator
- Catholic Coalition on Climate Change
- E Magazine
- Earth Literacy Masters Program at SMW College
- Environment California
- Environmental Defense Fund
- Forest Ethics
- Friends of the Earth
- Global Climate Change Report
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Ocean Conservancy
- Pacific Environment
- Sierra Club
- The Nature Conservancy
- Union of Concerned Scientists
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