The way I see it, Joseph was a man’s man. The kind who, if he were around today and charged with the same responsibilities, would sneak a peek at the Giants-Eagles score and maybe curse under his breath a little at the Giants’ end-of-game dissolution. Also the kind who would put his kids’ toys together on Christmas Eve without complaining, even if he’s running on his third medium cup of Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla and he knows he’s not getting to bed for at least another three hours. He would also treat his lady right, bring the groceries in from the car (even if he doesn’t unpack them), and, on a weekend afternoon, would take a nap with his feet up on the coffee table and his arms folded across his chest, chin resting and rising and falling with each breath.
He’d do things things so he would one day be seen as a righteous man. Not on purpose; he’s not that vain, but in the hope that God would see him as such.
Saint Joseph is my kind of guy. Yeah, historically things get a little fuzzy with him – he’s not mentioned a whole lot in the Gospels and we don’t know too much about him after Jesus hits the age of twelve – and it can make your head hurt, all of his life’s theological implications. Some folks say he was old. Like ninety years old. But some others say he may have been a young guy, too. Some folks say he was a widower and had kids already, which is why Jesus has brothers and sisters. Others say Mary was it for him, first and last. Who knows. I don’t know if that really matters.
Here’s what does matter: the dude did what God wanted; and what God wanted meant having to go through some extremely difficult (and high on the “this sucks” factor) experiences.
Let’s take a look.
First, God wants Joseph to be with Mary. He needs Joseph because He knows the life Jesus has ahead of Him, and knows that it’s only a benefit that He has both a mother and a father. Because, given the situation, being a single mother will not do, at least not for the first half or so of Jesus’ life (because we’re pretty sure Joseph dies before Jesus turns thirty). But when they get together, Joseph gets maybe a week or two of nice betrothal bliss before Mary drops the bomb that she’s coming with some baggage. Holy baggage, salvational baggage, but some nontheless. And Joseph tries his best to do what’s right – he doesn’t expose her, doesn’t embarrass her, but he also knows what he thinks are his limits, and he tries to get a divorce.
But, as is so often the case in our lives, what God wants, God gets. So He tells Joseph to stick with it and he does.
And here’s where Joseph’s humanity comes in:
God: Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary into your home. Her baby’s technically not yours, but I need you to take care of her and the child, since the child will be everyone’s salvation.
Saint Joseph’s Reaction (as a Saint): Sure! No problem, there’s plenty of room.
Saint Joseph’s Reaction (as a human being): What?
He does it anyway, even with the knowledge that this child is not his flesh and blood.
God: Oh, and yes, Mary is to be your wife, but she is going to remain a virgin forever. Lots of cold showers for you.
Saint Joseph’s Reaction (as a Saint): Sure! No problem. I may or may not be 90 years old anyway, so I probably won’t be into it, seeing as how she’s 75 years younger than me.
Saint Joseph’s Reaction (as a human being): What?
He does it anyway, because that’s how God wants it, and Mary’s perpetual virginity serves as a sign of self-denial, humility, and devotion to God. (And, I guess by default, Joseph’s perpetual chastity does, too.)
So, they huff it to Bethlehem, as we are all familiar, and Jesus is born in a filthy stable and/or cave with pretty much no outside help, and is placed in a crib made out of a feeding trough.
And here is where the story ends for most folks, but Jospeh’s is really just getting started:
God: “Okay Joseph, good work so far. But you can’t go home yet. Go to Egypt, because your son may or may not have angered King Herod, who is pretty much killing every baby who is Jesus’ age out of the fear that he will be overthrown. He won’t be the way he thinks he will, but that doesn’t matter. Just go to Egypt and stay there until I tell you to.”
Saint Joseph (as a Saint): Sounds good! Let’s go!
Saint Joseph (as a human being): What? Do You not know how far away Egypt is? It’s like a whole other country! We don’t know anyone there! How are we supposed to make a living? Do we even speak the same languages they do in Egypt? We have, like zero food! …Fine. I’ll do it.
So after a long time of pretty much distrusting anyone old enough to hold a knife and who can sign up to be an assassin for Herod, Joseph and his family get the all-clear to head back to Judah.
God: “Oh, wait – don’t go there. Archeleus is ruling, and he’s a pretty evil dude. He’d probably kill you for no reason. Go to Galilee instead.
Saint Joseph (as a Saint):You got it!
Saint Joseph (as a human being): Okay. Hey. You know, You’re my Lord and I love You and all, but You know, Jesus is your Son, and He’s pretty important. Just hoped you might have made it, you know, a little easier on Him.
God: I know, bro. But it’s gotta be this way. It sucks, but there’s a bigger picture here. Trust me. I love you.
Joseph (as a human being): Yeah. It does suck.
God: But it’s so worth it, man.
The Holy Family eventually settles in Nazareth, and we don’t hear much about Joseph again until Jesus’ visit to the Temple, in which he lays some theological heaviness on the Rabbis and acts kind of snotty (and, well, kinda like a twelve-year-old) to His parents.
On the surface, it looked like Joseph got the short end of the stick, but we tend to forget a few things:
- He lived with Mary and Jesus, so he was the only sinner in the house. That probably meant he sinned less. People tend to act in accordance with their companions, so if they didn’t sin, he probably didn’t either, nearly as much.
- He lived with Mary and Jesus, so he was constantly surrounded by unconditional love, support, and unfailing faith. Not too shabby.
- He received graces to continue on his path from becoming a plain, quiet carpenter (or wood-worker) to one of the most favored and widely-recognized saints in the whole Communion.
Because of his ordeal, he serves as a fantastic example to all Christians. He got to witness firsthand God’s providence, and was a brave, strong leader for his family. Even when he had no idea why he was where he was or why he was going through what he had to, he listened to God’s direction and kept Jesus and Mary safe.
There will be many times in our lives when we have no idea what we’re doing. We don’t know what the plan is, even though God does. In those times, we pray for God to guide us through the darkness. Joseph prayed for that guidance, and received it. We receive it also in our own prayers, and hope to see one day the Big Picture we contributed to, how Joseph did.
Now someone get that guy a cold one and a nap!