“Each year Jesus’ parents went up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and when he was twelve years old they went up according to festival custom.” Luke 2,41
At twelve, Jesus entered a new stage in life – his “Bar Mitzvah,” when he took on the responsibilities of the law, which later he summarized as: “Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart…Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Who led him to that new stage? It had to be Joseph and Mary. Matthew’s Gospel gives Joseph a major role in Jesus’ birth. He provides Jesus with a genealogy going back to Abraham. He’s told by the angel not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; he shouldn’t divorce her as Jewish law called for, and he should name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”
After the visit of the Magi, Joseph was directed to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Then, the angel tells him to return to Israel with them after Herod’s death. Finally, he makes a home in Nazareth in Galilee, where his family would be safer away from Herod’s heir, Archelaus, who ruled in Judea.
Clearly, according to Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is an important figure in the birth and early life of Jesus Christ. Then, he silently disappears from the gospels. There’s no record of his role at Nazareth or his death.
The gospel calls Joseph an “upright” man. He was upright because, like his neighbors at Nazareth, he observed all the Jewish laws. But not from lip service. Joseph firmly believed in his heart in the God of Israel, who loved all things great and small, yes, even Nazareth and a humble carpenter.
An inward man, Joseph saw in the simple, ordinary world about him more than others saw. His neighbor casting seed on the family field he loved – wasn’t God’s passionate love for the land of Israel like that? Even as he built a village house or a table, his thoughts sometimes turned to another world: was not God building a kingdom for his people?
An inward man, Joseph saw beyond the fields and mountains and the small town of Nazareth, but he said little about his inmost dreams to others. A quiet man, he kept his own counsel.
Jesus, the Son of God, was known through his earthly life as Jesus, the son of Joseph, “the carpenter’s son.” As children do, he naturally would acquire some of Joseph’s traits, perhaps the way he walked and spoke.
From Joseph, Jesus first learned about the people of the village, their sorrows and their joys. He saw his love for Mary and the people of his village. Jesus learned from him how to use a carpenter’s tools and worked at his side. The rabbis said: A father who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to steal.
The two were constant companions at the synagogue in Nazareth. Together they celebrated regularly the great Jewish feasts, listened to the Scriptures, and journeyed as pilgrims to Jerusalem.
Jesus must have seen in Joseph a simple, holy man who trusted God with all his heart. Someone like Joseph, so unassuming, so steady, so quietly attentive to God, was like a treasure hidden in a field. He could go unrecognized.
Later, would Jesus remember lessons and tell stories he learned earlier at Nazareth from Joseph, the carpenter?
The opening prayer for today’s feast describes Joseph’s spirituality. He intercedes for the church that it may be aware of “the unfolding mysteries of human salvation.” Joseph was there when “the unfolding mysteries of salvation” began. Joseph listened to angels and prophets and followed them.
In the first reading for his feast God promises King David he would have an God-given heir. Joseph, a son of David, saw that promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans presents Abraham as the father of many nations. Joseph saw that promise also fulfilled in Jesus. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,” the angel says to Joseph. He was not afraid, but believed in the “unfolding mysteries of salvation.”
Two Passionist brothers remembered St. Joseph in a painting and a sculpture, which I’ve added to this blog: Brother Paul Morgan and Brother Michael Stomber.
St. Joseph and the Boy Jesus by Brother Michael Stomber, CP