I had never seen Iftahar so excited, “John I am getting married!” My friend Iffy was working in a convenience store in Virginia connected to the garden center I was managing. Iffy was a Muslim from Pakistan and was living in the store, working 14 hour days to get it running for his brother Zulfiqar. Iffy and I spent the down times together with him feeding me Pakistani food and I teaching him about the best of America, how to play Ms. Pac man. We had become good friends and I was so surprised when he told me he was getting married. “You didn’t tell me you were even seeing someone.” The odd thing to me – he declared that he wasn’t! What? He began giving me an intriguing lesson in old world marriages.
Iffy had a wife picked out for him by his family back in Pakistan. He had never talked to his future bride; not even having exchanged letters. Showing me a picture of a young veil clad lady who was soon to be his bride he could hardly contain his giddiness. “But, Iffy, how do you know you love this woman?” His answer? “I already do!” He continued on explain that his family knew him well and would pick the perfect person for him because they loved him and wanted him to happy and succeed. He further said that they would never pick a wife for him that had a bad reputation or habits they knew would be annoying to him. With a huge genuine smile on his face he said “she is perfect!”
It is sometimes hard for one culture or society to understand the likes and traits of another. Often we just think they are weird as they think we are. Arranged marriage is probably one of the culture norms found in other places that seems most foreign if not unbelievable to us. Parents today would most assuredly love to see this system in place but are equally thankful that it wasn’t in place 25 years ago when they were teens. This was the way of things back in the time when a young carpenter Joseph began thinking of marriage. Can you imagine the anxious waiting as his parents evaluated and deliberated about all of the eligible maidens of the land? And, if Joseph is like any guy I know he was dropping hints everywhere he could to his parents. “Hey dad, I like how mom laughs, can you imagine having to live with that laugh of Miriam Abramowitz for the rest of your life; a braying donkey is less obnoxious don’t you think dad?” “Hey mom you know how I love to eat, I was down by the Leibowitz’s house today and Esther cannot hardly boil water let alone roast a decent goat. You know how I love goat mom!”
The day for the big announcement and it is Mary! She is perfect! Nice pick mom and dad! Joseph is so excited, walking around with a big smile and almost giddy about his new bride. As they are now pledged they are legally one another’s spouse except for one condition; you live apart for one year getting to know each other then you hold the marriage ceremony beginning when you can live as husband and wife. And all Joseph can think is “she is perfect!”
What heartbreak when this young man finds his perfect wife to be is pregnant? How could she do this to me – we are betrothed, it is a sacred promise! And she has the gall to tell me she has not been with another man but “God did it.” “I would have to hear from God directly for me to believe that story. That whopper is bigger than the whale that ate Jonah!” Joseph had two legal options; he could have her publically stoned or he could divorce her. Being a man of God he had decided in his heart that he would just quietly divorce her, though disappointed and deeply hurt he still had loved Mary, because you know, she had been perfect for him. From the depths of pity and embarrassment believing his life is ruined Joseph hears unexpectedly from God Himself. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary for your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give Him the name Jesus because he will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20) Can you believe it? Not only is Mary perfect for me but such a righteous and Godly a woman that God himself chose her to carry the savior. She did not lie to me!
Joseph was declared to be a man of God, so much so that he was entrusted with raising the young Jesus. God had a big picture plan that Joseph could not see. Being blinded by his disappointment, anger and hurt was all he saw amid the ruin of a dream of a good life with a perfect bride. But Joseph remained righteous and he determined in his heart to do the right thing for the dignity of Mary and his own integrity in God’s eyes. And God honored his faith with even a greater blessing; in addition to a wife perfect for Him he raised a perfect Son for us all. In all things Joseph sought God first. When Jesus grew up He gave famous “sermon on the mount” discussing in part earthly pleasures and their priorities in our lives. Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you as well.” You have to wonder that as Jesus taught us to keep our eyes on His heavenly father because He will give us all we need on earth that he wasn’t smiling and thinking of his earthly father Joseph who so movingly demonstrated this lesson long ago.
This daily devotion is written by John Key