Is 7:10-14; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24
Roger Chillingworth is a character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter. He is an old and lonely scholar in England dehumanized by a life of abstruse studying. He married a young wife and sent her, to the Puritan colony of Massachusetts, with instructions to live quietly until he arrived. Due to "grievous mishaps by sea and land," and over a year's captivity by Indians, his intended arrival was delayed. He finally arrived to discover his wife, Hester Prynne, holding the child of another man.
After Chillingworth arrived in Massachusetts, he slowly evolved from a man capable of love, to a man capable of, the greatest sin in the novel: Violating the sanctity of the human heart. Chillingworth imperiously bid her to name the father of her child. . He was disappointed that his hope of gaining his wife's affection upon arrival was destroyed and he hated the man who had gainedthat affection. He concealed his identity and introduced himself as a doctor, and was well received.
Chillingworth's quest to find out the partner of his wife’s sin changed him. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, and scholar-like. Then, there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed. Roger Chillingworth evolved from a man capable of love, into a devil who was only capable of revenge.
Today’s Gospel presents a contrast to this. Joseph was faced with a similar situation. He learned that his Wife was with a child. Being a man of honour he decided to divorce her secretly. He decided not to expose her publicly and humiliate her. So God sent His angel to the help of Joseph. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said:
“Joseph, son of David,
Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,
Because she has conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
We come across two categories of people. The great majority of humanity, like Hawthorne’s character, Chillingworth, put their trust in themselves; and the minority of just people, like Joseph, put their trust in the Lord.
Today’s first reading gives the story of king Ahaz, who put his trust in himself. The political situation in those days was that king Rezin of Aram and king Pekah of Israel (Ephraim) had joined together to invade Jerusalem. They threatened to invade Judah unless Ahaz joined them. Ahaz's advisers urged him to join Jerusalem against Rezin and Pekah. But Isaiah foresaw disaster in that path. Isaiah attempted to discourage Ahaz from going against Rezin and Pekah while providing him with the Lord’s encouragement in that situation. Ahaz rejected God's offer. So king Ahaz was given a warning.
“If you do not stand by me,
You do not stand at all.” (Is 7:9)
Instead of putting his trust in the Lord, he trusted his own cleverness, and appealed to the king of Assyria for help. With infinite patience God sent Isaiah to Ahaz again. To convince him that it was really Yahweh who spoke, Isaiah made an extraordinary offer; let the king mention any wonder he wanted,
“Coming either from the depths of the Sheol
or from the heights above.”
Since the king refused to accept God’s sign, he gave a sign for all mankind.
“The maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel” (Is 7:14)
Like king Ahaz, people who put their trust in themselves, refuse to accept God’s message. On the other hand those who accept the message of God become inherent part of the process of man’s salvation. Abel accepted the message of God, and his sacrifice of the lamb demonstrated his belief that God would one day send a way to save them from sin. Enoch accepted the message of God, and he walked with God. Noah accepted the message of God and he prepared himself for the flood. Abraham accepted the message of God, and willingly left for an unknown land and trusted that God would keep his promise to make him father of a great nation. Finally Joseph and Mary unconditionally accepted the message of God, and became instruments for man’s salvation.
Trust in God’s promise is a great virtue. Prophet Jeremiah called the people who place their trust in the Lord as blessed;
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the
Lord his hope and confidence. (Jeremiah 17:7)
"He who gives heed to the word will prosper,
And happy is he who trusts in the Lord,” Says the Proverbs (16:20)
Today the church reminds us that our call is to trust in God and accept the message of God; and like Joseph and Mary become instruments in the hands of God to radiate the message of God’s love for mankind. When we are willing to do it God will send us his support.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, I will
counsel you and watch over you.” Says the Psalmist (Psalm 32:8)
Those who put their trust in the Lord will certainly be capable of putting their trust in the fellow men too. When we are able to trust our fellow men we will not behave like Chillingworth, Hawthorne’s character. Instead of trying to expose the weakness of our friends, Like Joseph we will be able to tolerate the weakness of our fellow men in silence.
Jesus condemned the attitude of people to expose the weakness of his fellow beings. The crowd was happy when they caught a woman, the adultery. They were contended that they succeeded in exposing her weakness. With this attitude she was presented before Jesus. But Jesus could not approve of their hypocrisy. His judgment was:
"Let him who is without sin cast the first stone"
When we continue to see the mistakes of others, we demonstrate that our minds are full of discrimination, and we lack wisdom and compassion.
The Sutra of Hui-Neng: Grand Master of Zen taught:
He who treads the Path in earnest sees not the mistakes of the world;
If we find fault with others
We ourselves are also in the wrong.
When other people are in the wrong, we should ignore it,
By getting rid of the habit of fault-finding
We cut off a source of defilement.
When neither hatred not love disturbs our mind
Serenely we sleep.
Alexander pope prayed for the grace to hide the fault of others. He wrote:
“Teach me to feel another’s woe
to hide the fault I see;
that mercy I do others show,
that mercy show to me.”
When we ignore the fault of others, God will come to our aid. When Joseph decided to divorce Mary secretly, God sent His Angel for his aid. When we cast away our ego and show courage to ignore the fault of others God will be with us to guide us. Isaiah assures us:
“The Lord will guide you always, he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land. You will be like a spring whose waters never fail.”(Isaiah 58:11)