April is a month traditionally associated with fools. Were there those who thought Joseph a fool, for taking the pregnant Mary home as his wife? Did they say as much? With what word, what insult, did they taunt him in those narrow streets of Nazareth? Cuckold? Fool?
Elsewhere, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has harsh words for those who call a brother “fool”. He says this: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will answer for it in hell fire (Mt 5:22).”
Is it really so bad to call someone a fool? Well, it seems that the word used by Our Lord here and which we translate as “fool” has a deeper, stronger sense. The word in Greek is raca – a slang insult. The gravity of calling someone “raca” was so great because it suggested a foolishness that meant someone had no integrity, character, or good name. More than this, raca denied the likeness of God in a person – such stupidity suggested a lower form of life.
Did they shout, “Raca!Raca!” the village lads of Nazareth, when Joseph walked by? The irony of it, if they did.
It was Joseph’s habit to put the dignity and good name of a person, their integrity, before any judgement about actions. So, he decided to divorce his betrothed quietly so as to spare her publicity and save her good name. No fear of Joseph thinking the Blessed Virgin foolish. Indeed, many believe, his decision to divorce was also born from a conviction he had of Mary’s goodness and his unworthiness to approach her.
It is the fool who has said in his heart, “there is no God” (Ps 53:1). While the wise are silent before such mysteries (Prov 17:28). Joseph was silent and content to be taken as a fool for the sake of Christ, present in the womb of His mother. O, to have wisdom enough to happily be a fool for Christ!