A strange act of fealty

Tales from the Unending Story

December 15, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 25
Joshua Penfold | Columnist
(Unsplash photo by Randy Tarampi)

I was on the cusp of starting a family, engaged to an honorable girl.

It is one of the commands of scripture to “be fruitful and increase in number,” so marriage and then children (in that order) are a critical part of being obedient to God and fulfilling my purpose.

But then, out of nowhere, this simple and perfect plan hit a wall and my life flipped upside down: my soon-to-be wife became pregnant. I knew for certain that it wasn’t mine, for we had never been together.

Another time and another place may not hold pregnancy out of wedlock as grievous, but in my culture, this is a serious offence. It is a sin. Everything I had hoped for, built my life toward, dreamed of, had suddenly come crashing down.

What to do next? What choice did I have?

According to the law, and according to some of my friends, stoning my fiancée was a legitimate option. Being with another man while betrothed to me could be punishable by death.

I was a whirlwind of emotions—sad, angry, overwhelmed and confused—but vengeful was not one of them. Despite the pain and hurt I felt when I thought of her shameful act, I still cared for her and didn’t wish her harm.

No, I could never invoke the harshest degree of the law’s justice against her. It would kill her, and really, it would kill me, too.

Instead, I took a softer, gentler approach: I decided to quietly break off the engagement without spectacle. It was already bad enough for both of us. Maybe if I laid low some other juicy piece of gossip would flood the town and my disgraceful situation would lose the spotlight and fade into the background as old news.

That’s the best I could hope for, really: to forever be an old news disappointment.

But one night, after my restless mind and exhausted body finally fell asleep, I had a dream. An angel appeared to me. What the angel said remained so clear it was more real than if I’d been awake.

Unlike other dreams that fade the moment you try to recall them once awake, I remember this dream word for word.

The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as 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.”

It was more than just a strange dream. I can’t explain how I know, but I know. I can’t not follow the angel’s instructions.

Now the disgrace, the ridicule and the shame associated with this messed up marriage is comparatively inconsequential. Sure, no one will understand me—I don’t even understand me—but I understand what must be done.

This is a strange path of faithfulness to God.

Though, as I ponder my unusual path of obedience, I realize I’m not alone. God has asked many to walk the peculiar path of faithfulness.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice his miracle child, Hosea faithfully married unfaithful Gomer, Ezekiel obediently cooked food over his own excrement—these are but a few of the strange acts of fealty done by God’s people.

So, I join their ranks, choosing a faithfulness that looks to others like foolishness, even faithlessness. Little do I know that this is but the beginning of strange and wonderful things that will happen to my family.

I can only catch a dim glimmer of what exactly the angel meant by a child that will save the people. Though not my child, I will be his father. Could he really be the anticipated Messiah?

I take Mary to be my wife despite everyone’s better judgment. I become an illegitimate father to an illegitimate son, and it couldn’t feel more right.

Joshua Penfold lives in New Hamburg, Ontario, and can be reached at penfoldjoshua@gmail.com.

Read more Tales from the Unending Story:
My extended season of Advent
An Open Letter to the Psalmists
To be no longer known

(Unsplash photo by Randy Tarampi)

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