That’s not what this short article is about, but I needed a provocative headline to grab attention because this article is about the role of men in the age of discontinuity. Maybe every age is discontinuous, but we often deceive ourselves into thinking that there was a time not long ago when it wasn’t. Speaking of not long ago, it was not long ago that movements such as Promise Keepers, and something featuring men sitting around banging drums, had their moment of fame, and followers who were told it was the way to reclaim their rightful roles as undisputed heads of families, protectors of women folk, and guides to proper adult roles for their sons and daughters.
They were popular because ours is an age in which gender specific roles as cornerstones of American culture have been challenged. No, not challenged, displaced altogether. But with what? When men no longer have a preferred place reserved for them only, what do they have? What role should they play? What role are they called to play, and by whom are they called? In this Christmas season we might look to Joseph, as revealed in Matthew’s gospel, for a few clues.
Joseph was a man of considerable standing in his community. In his time and place, one of unquestioned patriarchal rule, a man of any standing whatsoever would have had nothing more to do with a girl like Mary. Nothing was more important than one’s honor, but close behind were the honor of his family, his broader reputation in the region, and the future of his livelihood. Social standing, pride, economic necessity, they all dictated that Mary had to go. She was a corrupted sinner who had brought shameful disgrace to her family, his family, and him personally. Joseph was a man of considerable standing in his community. Being a compassionate man as well, he would prefer to get rid of her in a way that would at least keep her from being stoned to death. It was the best he could do.
But Joseph was also something else. He was a man of faith. He was a man who was wiling to listen to the angel. He was a man who had the courage to lay aside his standing, his honor, his pride, his rights. He was a man who was willing to risk his livelihood, and every prospect for a secure future, to go, as God directed him, on a path of unknown destination, but of well known danger in an unsettled and dangerous time. He was a man who was willing to give up himself to God’s service not only with his lips, but with his life. That’s what courageous faith looks like. That’s what the role of a Christian man looks like today. It’s not gender specific. Few roles are. To echo a popular internet meme: Be like a man, Be like Joseph.