A Good and Gentle Masculinity
"And her husband Joseph, being a just man..." - Matthew 1:19
The headlines you often read about the modern man these days are less than positive and there are many good reasons for that. There have been far too many men who have used their power and authority to hurt, shame, and control others and this has sadly been true within the church.
There is massive cultural confusion about what it means to be a man today. What does a healthy masculinity look like? Is such a thing even possible? Does all masculinity at some point become irredeemably toxic? What is a way forward for men to embrace their masculinity and live out their identity in a way that leads to others (especially women's) safety & flourishing? Can there be a masculinity that blesses the world instead of continually breaking it?
Enter a man who gives us a glimpse of what a gentle and good man can look like--the earthly father of Jesus---Joseph, the young husband of Mary.
Joseph and Mary have been pledged in marriage to each other, but have not consummated their marriage when Mary is told she will bear the child Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Easy to read through this because it is so familiar to us, but the reality of this is staggering. Mary tells Joseph that she is pregnant through the Holy Spirit. That was a conversation they had together. Can you imagine? How does Joseph respond?
"And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly."
1) Joseph was a Just Man
He was not simply a "good guy", but a righteous man. He was a man who loved God and loved God's word and looked to God's word to inform and shape how he was to live as a young Jewish man. A healthy masculinity is found in following God, in learning true power is found in laying it down, and strength is found in embracing weakness. These truths are all found in following God's word and Joseph was a man who was cultivating a godliness in his heart and practice long before his betrothal to Mary.
2) Joseph Refused to Shame Mary
Joseph's character prevented him from "putting Mary to shame". So many men have not made this choice and have chosen instead to shame, demean, and control women in order to save face or accrue more power and authority for themselves. That is shameful and it speaks to their lack of character. These men are actually cowards at heart, living in fear and threatened by other men or women. Joseph could have easily publicly shamed Mary and made a mockery of her supposed "commitment" to him, but he chose a different path...because he was a different man.
Toxic masculinity seeks to control women through shaming, manipulation, and abuse.
A redeemed masculinity seeks to see women flourish in every way by stewarding the power entrusted to us by God for their sake and not our sake.
Healthy men do not shame others or use others for their own gain. They use their power to see others rise, even at their own expense.
Joseph chose the kindest path available to him within Jewish law at the time--a quiet divorce. He would, in fact, take some level of shame upon himself by doing this instead of heaping it upon Mary. But he chose the hard path anyway because he was a different type of man.
Joseph spends time "considering these things" before he rushes to divorce Mary and in that time of reflection God speaks to him. Another hallmark of healthy masculinity is not responding in anger or in emotionally unhealthy ways to relational discord or pain, but responding by seeking the Lord, by self-reflection, by prayer, by letting what you know to be true guide your emotional rhythms. He then hears from God, believes God, and when he arises from his sleep he commits to obeying God and embracing his role as a husband to Mary and a man entrusted to raise a child that is not biologically his. That's a good and gentle and redeemed masculinity.
Our present moment needs men to lead, but to lead in a way that leads to the flourishing of others around them. A courageous, convictional, and gentle leadership. Men who vow to protect the vulnerable, who speak up and act for justice, who support, partner with, and learn from women, and who use their authority and power to provide places for all people to feel safe, to feel seen, to feel celebrated.
This is the way of Joseph and the way of Joseph's son, the man who showed the world that giving your life way is the true path of redeemed manhood.
Perhaps Jesus learned that not only from his heavenly father, but his earthly one as well.