What's your image of Joseph? Is he young or old? Is he alone or with someone? Is he working or sleeping? Is he rich or poor? Is he strong or weak? We invite you now to clear away all those images in order to see him for the first time. Let's meet Joseph anew, as he is presented to us in the Gospel of Matthew at the birth of Jesus.
Of course, the best thing to do is to pray with Matthew 1: 18-25. Here’s the cliff note version: Mary and Joseph are engaged. She is expecting. He intends to divorce her quietly but learns, in a dream, that she is carrying a son who will "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Joseph is told to accept Mary as his wife and name the child Jesus.
In this passage, we see four qualities in Joseph - compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness - that make him a saintly man and a role model for us today.
Imagine how Joseph felt about Mary's pregnancy. The marriage customs of his day were much different than ours. Were they "in love" or was the engagement arranged? Perhaps Joseph felt more hurt than angry; or disappointed given Mary's natural innocence. In any case, he responded with compassion; he did not want to see her hurt.
He did, however, want to do what is right. While he never says a word, Joseph's actions continually said "yes" to God's will. He takes Mary into his home as his wife. He honors Mary's special relationship with God by not having "relations with her until she bore a son" (Matthew 1:25). He claims Jesus as his son by naming him.
Joseph lived a quiet fidelity - expressed in action rather than words. A kind-hearted man, accepting the mystery of salvation entrusted to him as his God-given purpose, his vocation, Joseph adopts Jesus and raises him as his own. He protects him, teaches him, and loves him.
Joseph's love for Mary and Jesus sharpened his awareness of the forces around them. When Herod threatens the life of Jesus, Joseph leaps into action leaving that night for Egypt. When the threat is gone, he brings Jesus back to his people. When he realizes some threat remains, he settles in Nazareth thus fulfilling a prophecy. His decisive action was always for the good of Jesus and Mary.
As we get close to Joseph, we meet a kind-hearted man, walking humbly with his God, as he accepts, protects, and raises Jesus so he can "save his people from their sins." He plays a quiet, but essential, role in salvation history.
Perhaps we, too, have a quiet role to play in salvation history. Perhaps Jesus is relying on us just as he relied on Joseph. Compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness can help us live out our role just as they served Joseph.
St. Joseph, pray for us.