Modeling is a buzz word in the field of child development and developmental psychology. Essentially, it’s the monkey see, monkey do phenomenon—children emulate what they observe.
Modeling first takes place in the family unit. Children learn how to behave, respond, cope, and navigate life based off of how their parents behave, respond, cope, and navigate life.
In recently discussing this with a friend, we started talking about Jesus’ early socialization experiences, particularly, how Joseph and Mary served as models of obedience, and how this impacted Jesus’ ability to stay true to God’s calling throughout his life.
In Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is portrayed as a model of obedience.
As a Jewish male in the first century, Joseph had every right to call off his engagement to Mary. Upon finding out his betrothed was pregnant, the only logical conclusion he could’ve drawn was that she’d been gallivanting around Nazareth. Considering betrothal was just as binding as marriage, this adulterous act would’ve shamed Joseph, threatened his reputation, and damaged his ego. The only way to save face was to cut ties with Mary. This was the societal expectation—Jewish law demanded that a man divorce his wife for adultery.*
And, this is what Joseph decided to do (Matt. 1.19), until an angel of the Lord appeared to him and provided a behind-the-scenes explanation of Mary’s miraculous conception (Matt. 2.20-23), rather than her devastating betrayal.
In response, Joseph acted obediently; he “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matt. 1.24). He took Mary to be his wife.
Joseph’s “yes” to God was a confession; a declaration of his willingness to participate in God’s bigger plan; a recognition that doing God’s will was more important than preserving his own reputation.
In saying “yes,” Joseph sacrificed his societal right, surrendered his pride, and invited the critique, shame, and judgment of his family and community, to follow God’s greater agenda.
In Luke’s gospel, Mary is portrayed as a paradigm of obedience.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary she was astonished and baffled by this divine visitation. She was equally bewildered by her miraculous conception (Lk. 1.29-33). She responded with disbelief (Lk. 1.34). Only after further explanation, did Mary submit. She accepted God’s will—“Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk. 1.38).
Being a (perceived) knocked-up teenager during the first century didn’t bode well for Mary. Virginity was a prized possession, and thus, Mary would’ve been considered damaged goods, ruining her chances of a future marriage (had Joseph not stuck around). Her misfortune would not only have brought tremendous shame upon herself, but also upon her family and community.
Being a (perceived) adulteress also didn’t bode well for Mary. Jewish law prescribed the death penalty (stoning) for marital unfaithfulness. Though Jewish courts at this time didn’t carry out capital punishment, it’s likely that Mary’s family would have preferred her death to her defilement.**
Mary’s “yes” to God was a declaration of her obedience; a recognition that God’s plan was paramount; that participating in God’s promise trumped her safety, security, and reputation.
In saying “yes” Mary surrendered her plans and dreams for a normal life, unadulterated by humiliation and disgrace, and invited the mockery and disdain of her family and community. She risked everything, she put her very being on the line, to follow and obey God’s agenda.
While this is all speculation, I believe that Mary and Joseph’s response, their initial “yes” to God, their obedience, was modeled throughout Jesus’ life. I imagine that Jesus saw his mother and father, both devout Jews, continuously surrender to God’s will, give their lives for God’s higher purpose, submit to, and worship, the Creator of the universe, trusting in his care and provision.
I believe that Mary and Joseph’s obedience influenced Jesus’ obedience. I think that Jesus’ ability to withstand the temptations, to endure the critique of the religious leaders, and to suffer the shame of the crucifixion, was partly due to the modeling he’d received early on. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, he watched his parents renounce their rights, reputations, and lives for God’s divine purpose. We see Jesus do the same in the desert, in the streets and cities in Galilee and Judea, in Gethsemane, and ultimately, on the cross.
Jesus saw his parents stay true and faithful to their Father’s will. So too, did Jesus.
And in turn, Jesus modeled this very obedience for his children—his followers.
Picture taken from www.biblestudytools.com
*Keener, Craig S. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 91. Eerdmans, 1999.
**Ibid, p. 93.