‘Terror of Demons’ – Joseph
If you’re part of our podcast community, by now you’ll know we’re big fans of Joseph, husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus.
One of the titles we love for Joseph, here at Virtue Ministry, is Joseph – Terror of Demons. It’s a rather curious title, because we don’t hear Joseph say anything in scripture, and we certainly don’t hear him battling demons either so where could this be from? Now, I don’t claim to know but here are just some of my own, personal musings on the title.
The closer we bring a piece of art toward the light, the more visible and clearly, we can see blemishes and imperfections. The same is true for our souls. The closer we move towards Christ who is the light of life, the more visible our sins and imperfections. As these imperfections become clearer, we have a choice to make – whether to hide them or bring them to God. In this moment, we’re often tempted with a number of thoughts and reactions, everything from shame, disgust, and anger through to fear and despair. Each of these creating moments for evil to try and mess with us. However, these moments also become opportunities to reject what is not of God, and to find healing and peace by leaning into Faith.
Joseph was not perfect. He was flawed like you and me. Perhaps he didn’t struggle with the same things, but we know he too had a fallen human nature. Still, he was called to live in a house with the most perfect woman ever created, the love of his life, Mary, and being tasked with raising the God-Man, Jesus. He was given the role of providing for his young family. This puts Joseph so close to Jesus, I can only imagine what parts of his heart would have been illumined – the parts that were good and beautiful and holy, and the parts that were imperfect. Perhaps, this created opportunities for Joseph to bring these imperfect places forward with humility for healing too?
When we hear that Joseph initially pulled away when he heard Mary was with Child, we’re not really given an indication of what’s going on in his heart. What we hear is that Joseph is a ‘…righteous man unwilling to expose Mary to shame, decided to divorce her quietly’ Matthew 1:19. It strikes me that when we read this, and we read works on Joseph, we’re given two ends of a spectrum to consider of what might be happening here:
- Shame on Mary
Joseph could have looked at Mary being pregnant, and doubted that this was God’s work and thought she was unfaithful to him. Being a righteous man then, and of course truly loving this woman, wants to separate from her in quiet, to spare her as much public shame as possible, even to taking that shame upon himself.
- Shame of Joseph
It’s also possible, Joseph, fully believing Mary, did not feel it was appropriate for him to be married to Mary now that she was with Child with God’s son. People will often write about this as exceptionally holy humility, and there probably was some degree of that. But being so close to Jesus, conceived in Mary’s womb, it’s also very possible Joseph’s own flaws were being illumined. Operating from a place of shame, it’s entirely possible Joseph was motivated by ‘how can a flawed man like me, draw any closer, I must step aside’.
Either way, the battle Joseph fought in his mind and heart took him to the one solution he could think of – leave Mary’s side and consequently, leave Jesus (who is in her womb). In some ways, isn’t that just what the work of evil wants to accomplish in us all? Abandon Jesus or turn away from Jesus. The snake doesn’t care what motivates us to do that, just so long as we do.
It took a dream and God speaking through an Angel to convince him ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife’ (Matthew 1:20). What is this fear about? God doesn’t say ‘don’t worry so much about Mary, and what public ridicule she may face if you divorce her’. He says ‘do not be afraid’. It’s possible, Joseph feared seeing his own faults and failings and becoming aware that he was not ‘pure’ (not completely free from that which is foreign to God) and being unable to reconcile it, he opts to withdraw all together. Haven’t we all done that in some way? ‘Jesus, you’re too close, I see myself more clearly and I don’t like what I see’ or ‘Jesus, you’re lighting up parts of me that make me feel uncomfortable, I can’t step into this space you’re calling me into’.
But if so, it’s precisely from this place of shame, that God works healing in Joseph’s life and invites him into a life of chastity and purity, to refine the places in his heart that he’s uncomfortable with. The parts Jesus will light up not to hurt him, but to heal him. God doesn’t say ‘remain friends with Mary’ or ‘Keep an eye on Mary because she’s carrying my son’, he tells him explicitly to take her as his wife, also making Joseph, father to Jesus. Where Joseph believed he needed to step aside, God calls him in deeper. Becoming husband AND father, is the vocation that Joseph is called into to heal the broken parts of him, and to unite him in his identity with Christ as a pure man, and faithful child of God. From this identity, he has the foundation he needs to live out this vocation and privilege of being husband to Mary, and earthly-father to Jesus.
At Virtue Ministry, we try to model this man of humility, and call on him to fight our spiritual battles for every one of our works – especially as we move more permanently into seminary and adult human formation. Being so close to Jesus, he’s battled perhaps the hardest of spiritual battles including overcoming the false belief that the ‘right thing to do’ (in other words the most loving/charitable) was to leave Jesus who was in Mary’s womb. That rightfully earns him this title. I can’t imagine this would have been his final spiritual battle, and at every turn, Joseph – terror of demons – would have won, because Jesus was right by his side – his very strength, fortress, buckler, sword and shield.
by Stina Constantine
Founder of Virtue Ministry