Thursday, December 6, 2012


For good reason, Mary takes center stage in many of the accounts of Jesus infancy.  She is the one who gives her flesh to Jesus that he may be properly understood as “savior” of mankind.  We strain in a few places to understand exactly Joseph’s role.  One of the characteristics of the Gospel account is that it is the account of Jesus and only in a lesser sense a chronicle of the life of other “characters.”  While the position of Joseph in the account is obviously surrounded by tenderness and affection, it is nonetheless not about him.  It is about Jesus, the answer to the question that is put to the disciples: “Who do men say that I am.”

The caution that is associated with this understanding of Joseph is not subtle. 
In the stories about great men of ancient times there is a dramatic need to discover the influence that shaped their lives.  Military leaders, philosophers and others accounted for their lives with complex stories of their birth and of their childhood.  There are stories in the so called apocryphal New Testament which include the origin of his good character.  They are stories of later centuries that attempt to fill in the blanks that are so widespread in the New Testament when it comes to understanding what Jesus is like.  This is the motivation for these stories: to substitute imagination for more sketchy truths.

In those secular stories from ancient times you would expect to find certain stories of a required type.  What was his father like, his mother?  Did he follow in the family business?  Did he have a hobby?  He must have liked fishing and thus all the stories about fishing that fill the Gospels. 
Here are some considerations of St. Joseph:
  • He was the husband of Mary who is the Mother of God.
  • Jewish custom required marriage between 13 – 19 years old.
  • Joseph was betrothed to Mary when she was found to be pregnant; Joseph was ready to set aside the marriage contract to protect Mary from shame.  He must have loved Mary very much to risk being considered disobedient to the laws of marriage.  Indeed, out of this obedience grew a renewed sense of discipline to the Father’s plan.
  • Joseph was brave.  He made a long journey to Egypt and back to Nazareth in order to protect Mary and the child Jesus from the evil King Herod.
  • Joseph received from angels information about each step in his participation in the plan.
  • Jesus is of the lineage of King David through the patrimony of Joseph.
  • He probably died before Jesus began his public ministry, or at about fifty.
  • He was a carpenter.  He was probably moderately successful since he would have been required to return to Bethlehem from Nazareth to pay tax on his second property.  Even with this success Mary and Joseph practiced a voluntary poverty, associating themselves with the poor.
There is, of course, the very dramatically important role as father.  We usually remember this as a homiletic note on his feast day, March 25th.  It also has an importance in preparation for celebrating the Incarnation.  It might seem silly that the author of our salvation would live happily in a family amid those who have need of his instruction.  Remember that Jesus submits to the authority of his earthly parents so that he can be an example to us.  In this relationship between father and son, heaven touches the lowliness of human life and elevates it to its proper place.  It is our pitiable flesh, our simple, weak manhood that He assumes. 

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