But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazorean.’”
The emotions stirred up by Joseph’s fourth and final dream are seemingly in direct contrast with those involved in his third dream, but we will see how that is not necessarily the case. Recall the joy and elation of the Holy Family when they were finally called home to Israel from Egypt. They must have been looking forward to returning to a familiar land, with familiar people, places, and customs. Imagine the morning after Joseph received his fourth dream when those plans suddenly came to a crashing stop as they had to change course yet again. We see here that God offers a consolation to the Holy Family and then seems to take it away again. However, if we see the situation through the eyes of faith, we can see that things are not always as they seem through the worldly human lens.
God’s plan is always better than our own plan. The prospect of going to Israel must have seemed pretty good to the Holy Family. After all, what could be better than going to their home country? We can see through this Scripture passage that, in fact, two things are better than going home. The first is that they are likely saving their son’s life by not returning home. Joseph cannot know the intentions of Herod’s son for certain, but he can extrapolate the possibility that he might intend to carry out his father’s wishes if he ever found out Jesus was indeed alive. This is definitely a case of “better safe than sorry.” How many of us would do anything to protect our children, even to the point of giving up everything else? As the wonderful and loving father he was, Joseph made his child his number one priority. The second thing scripture tells us, that makes the move to Nazareth a better plan, is that it fulfilled the proclamations of the prophets. If Joseph had not acted according to his conscience and had not returned to Nazareth, it would have made the messages of God from the past untrue. By nature, nothing untrue can come from God, so Joseph’s actions, by his own free will, attest to the ultimate truth that is God. When we use our own free will to act in accordance with God’s plan for each of our lives, we also proclaim the glory of God through those actions. We can see here, that while they had many reasons to rejoice in going home, they also had many reasons to rejoice in the change of plans. So, to repeat and emphasize, God’s plan is always better than our own plan and we ought to recognize all of the reasons why.
An interesting question arises during the progression from the third to the fourth dreams. Why does God tell Joseph to go to Israel first, and then seemingly change his mind and change course, when He could have simply sent them to Nazareth in the third dream? He could have skipped an entire step and saved the Holy Family from the disappointment of learning that they were not safe from the King after all. God cannot actually change his mind, as we can see from scripture that Jesus was going exactly where He needed to be. When things like this happen, it is for our benefit, not God’s, and He leads us on the path we need to be on, taking us through the steps we need to go through to get to our destination. In other words, life is a constant process. If God just snapped His fingers and gave us everything we wanted or needed in an instant, what good would there be in that? We would not learn or grow, and we certainly would not learn the virtues of faith, trust, and obedience. God uses the Holy Family here to show how He leads all of us on our own journey, as an unfolding series of events with twists and turns. We are called to emulate St. Joseph in quiet obedience as we go along for the ride.
Lastly, l want to examine the fear Joseph experienced in this scripture passage. Typically, we say “Fear is not of the Lord” which is true. There are a multitude of scripture passages that tell us to “fear not” or “be not afraid.” The fear that Joseph experiences here is not a crippling fear, but a healthy fear, which is instilled by God as a tool for discernment. It leads Joseph to right action, as opposed to causing him anxiety or stress. In our own lives, we must recognize unhealthy fear versus discerning fear. Is that fear leading us to act in a way that brings about holy peace almost instantly as we realize we are doing the will of God? Or, do we allow ourselves to be saturated in fear, causing unrest in our souls? Whenever we have something nagging at us, it is a cue for discernment and we should immediately take it to God in prayer and allow Him to tell us what to do, just as He did for St. Joseph.
As we close this four-week series on the dreams of St. Joseph, during this year of St. Joseph, take a moment to thank God for this incredible example of holiness and righteousness. St. Joseph is a powerful intercessor since he is a father figure to all of us and wants what is best for us. This week, consider asking for his intercession for all of your needs.