We are all born into a particular family that helps to shape our identity and even gives others a reference point for knowing who we are. In fact, it is as if the questions who yo’ people? and where are you from? are conjoined twins. When Philip introduces Jesus in John 1:45, he essentially says that he is Straight Outta Nazareth and he is Joseph’s boy calling him “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” But these are only descriptors not definers of one’s identity nor limiters on one’s capacity.
After all, there was a whole lot of controversy surrounding Jesus’ conception, birth, and paternity, which in the Black community, we might express as Mommy’s baby . . . Daddy’s maybe. Since Jesus was conceived before Mary and Joseph were married, Jesus is the product of pre-marital conception. Secondly, Joseph “was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace.” (Matthew 1:18) The law can be legal but not just; the rules can be revered, but not righteous; the guidelines can be agreeable, but not gracious; the mores can be meticulous, but not merciful.
As much as religion wants to make everything black or white, good or evil, us versus them, the way of Spirit does not always fall nice and neatly into an either/or category. This is one of those situations, and from the outside it looked one way but from the inside something totally different was transpiring. So, with the questions of Jesus’ paternity swirling around the rumor mill and the law on his side, Joseph had it in mind to quietly divorce Mary. However, after the angel visited him in a dream, he opened himself to view the situation from a different vantage point that did not fit nice and neatly into an either/or category, and Joseph accepted the responsibility of raising a child that he did not help create.
In today’s culture with the Maury Povich’s of the world, questions of paternity can be handled with much public disgrace, but the reality is that Joseph paternity was not a deciding factor, because that one relationship did not define nor limit Jesus. Certainly, Joseph played an important role in shaping Jesus’ identity, and we all have fathers who have helped shape our identities. However, whether that shaping was meant for good or bad, like Jesus, that one relationship does not define nor limit us. From that relationship, we have to, as a preacher I once heard put it, “eat the fish and spit out the bones.”
When I was a child I discovered that there was a side of my family that questioned my paternity, because I was born before my parents were married. Although I knew the questions were unwarranted, it hurt because it was hateful, and even if it were true, my daddy fed and clothed me long enough to make me his! So, yes, I am Straight Outta James Island and I am Boot Mack’s daughter, but that does not define me nor limit me!
RECOMMENDED JOURNAL EXERCISE: Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions and write your answer to each in your journal. Take about 5 minutes for each question.
- What words best describe your relationship with your father–past and present?
- How has your father helped to shape and form your sense of identity?
- What situation are you facing that does not fall nice and neatly into an either/or category?
Tara LaShawn Seabrook is a self-proclaimed “free spirit,” a public, practical, and prophetic theologian; a spiritual and social justice activist; a creative and cultural artist; and a prolific teacher, speaker, and writer. Currently, she resides in Guatemala where she is finishing up a 2-year volunteer in mission commitment with a non-governmental organization before returning to her native Charleston, SC in the spring of 2017. Her book