Fourth Sunday of Advent 2019 – The Righteous Man (or Woman)
Our Advent posts this year have focused on spiritual challenges being offered to us by the readings on the four Sundays. We started with the call from Jesus for us to stay awake. We then looked at the challenges offered to us by John the Baptist and by Mary, the mother-to-be.
The third Sunday called us to be strong and to not give in to fear. I reminded readers of the words from Saint Teresa of Avila: Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing … . Finally, on this fourth Sunday, we are challenged to be righteous and to be obedient to the mysterious ways of God.
Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus describes Joseph as a righteous man who didn’t stoop to the point of exposing a pregnant Mary to public disgrace. Then, in addition, he went further.
Rather than stick to his plan of dismissing her quietly, he was obedient to the message he received from an Angel of the Lord in a dream … he took Mary as his wife. Joseph did not know how Mary became pregnant.
He still didn’t know even after the dream (the Angel did say that the child was from the Holy Spirit, but how would each of us react to a statement such as that!). Joseph must have had a sense that it was related to his longing for the coming of the promised Messiah.
I saw a beautiful film in 2006. Actually, it was at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The film – Bella – went on to win the People’s Choice Award at that festival. In other words, it was the film most loved by audiences at TIFF that year.
José is a cook in his brother Manny’s Mexican restaurant. Nina is a waitress who arrives late for the second day in a row. She is fired on the spot. She drops a teddy bear as she rushes out. José retrieves it and chases after her. He discovers that the reason for the late arrivals for work is morning sickness from her pregnancy.
They walk around New York City and Nina reveals her plan for an abortion. José and Nina eventually go to José’s home and meet his family. He reveals a past accident with his beloved car, where he accidentally killed a young girl.
Despite advice to flee the scene, José owns up to the accident and serves time. There are other revelations about José’s family and his brother Manny’s adoption and about Nina and her own family background. In the end, José convinces Nina to settle for adoption, rather than abortion. It is later revealed that José is the one who adopted Bella, the child who was not aborted.
It may all seem like a fairy tale. Bella is a heart-warming story. I believe that José is a righteous man. There are many critics who saw it as simplistic. The famous critic Roger Ebert described it as a heart-tugger with the confidence not to tug too hard and concluded that the movie is not profound, but it’s not stupid.
But the reality is that it had positive word of mouth. It was a minor film that touched the hearts of viewers. My comments are not about the actual film and its artistic merit. The point I’m making is that José comes across as a righteous man.
What is it to be righteous? Merriam-Webster suggests that righteousness is connected with acting in accord with divine or moral law, as morally right or justifiable. I believe that José, like Joseph in the Gospel, is a righteous person.
People such as that always challenge us to be better people. That’s not a bad way for us to complete Advent and move toward the Nativity. How do people such as Joseph and Mary challenge us to be better people?