This Advent, remember women’s role in salvation history
In this Sunday's readings, Matthew shows the way Joseph enters salvation history through his service to his wife, Mary. The fact that women hold central roles in biblical narratives is nothing new. Joseph learns this truth through a dream and generations after him have relearned the role of women and men in salvation history.
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. (Mt 1:24)
What role do women play today in the life of the church?
What role do women play today in the life of society?
How can men work to foster the role of women in the church and society?
The lines immediately preceding this Sunday's Gospel passage include a colorful genealogy with several non-traditional relations. Matthew reminds readers that women were instrumental in salvation history. David, for example, is the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, that is, by another man’s wife (Mt 1:6). Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, is not mentioned by name but contributes to the continuation of the messianic line.
Also noteworthy is the role of Ruth, a foreigner, who married an Israelite man named Boaz (Mt 1:5). She was the great-grandmother of King David and a direct ancestor of Jesus. As Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi struggled to survive natural and personal disasters, they allowed God's dream to move forward during a chaotic time of transition to a more stable period.
Joseph's dream was a sign of the deeper dream of God, that both men and women have served equally as God's hands, voice and heart.
The task for biblical authors was the same as the task today, to interpret the signs that point to the Messiah’s arrival. In this Sunday’s first reading, a young woman provides a sign to the prophet Isaiah, “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14). In the second reading, Paul identifies the complex sign and nature of Jesus in his own call to be an apostle. “Paul,” the apostle writes, “called to be set apart for the gospel of God… and the gospel about his Son, from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit” (Rom 1:1-4).
The evangelist Matthew shows how God's signs to Joseph enabled him to become an instrument of salvation history. Matthew does not emphasize Jesus' messianic role or Mary's divine birth; in fact he takes both for granted. Instead, he draws attention to Joseph's choice to accept the work God was already doing in the world. When Joseph said "yes" to God's plan, he enabled Mary to fulfill her fundamental role in God's dream for humanity. “Joseph awoke,” we read today, “and took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:24).
Women have always been instruments of God within the history of salvation in the Bible. Scripture prepared Joseph to act on this truth. Joseph's dream was a sign of the deeper dream of God, that both men and women have served equally as God's hands, voice and heart. In this is a sign that continues to challenge us today.