Friday, May 1, 2009

"Isn't he the carpenter's son?"

Jesus came to his home town, and taught in the synagogue there.  The people were astonished, and said to one another, "Where did this fellow get such wisdom and power?   Isn't he the carpenter's son?  Aren't James, Joseph, Simon and Jude his kin?   Isn't his mother called Mary?   And don't her sisters live here too?  Where did he get all this?   And they took offense at him.

Jesus replied to them, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his native place, among his own people.  So he did not work many mighty deeds there, because of their lack of faith.  
(Matthew 13: 54-58)

All we know about Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, comes from the scripture.  

We know he was a carpenter, a man who worked with his hands.  The people of Nazareth ask the question about Jesus, "Isn't he the carpenter's son?" (Matthew 13:55).  He was not wealthy, since when he brought Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised, he offered the sacrifice of two pigeons, allowed only for those who couldn't afford to sacrifice a lamb. (Luke 2:24).

Although he was humble of status and of means, Joseph came from a royal lineage.  Both Luke and Matthew mark his descent from David (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38). The angel who tells Joseph how it came to pass that Mary was with child, greets him as "Son of David", a royal title which is also used of Jesus.

We know that Joseph was caring and compassionate.  When he learned that Mary was pregnant, and knew the child was not his, he proposed to divorce her quietly, knowing that a woman caught in adultery could be stoned to death (Matthew 1:19-25).  He was not about to expose her to cruelty or to shame. 

Joseph was a man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him, even without knowing the outcome.  When he learned the truth about the child Mary was carrying, he immediately and without concern for gossip, took her into his home as his wife.  When the angel returned, after the child was born, to warn him that the boy was in danger, he did not hesitate to flee with the child and his mother into Egypt until it was safe to return home to Galilee (Matthew 2:13-23).

We know that Joseph loved Jesus to the full.  His only concern was the welfare of the child entrusted to him.  Upon his return from Egypt, he settled in Galilee, in the town of Nazareth.  When Jesus tarried in the Temple at the age of 12, Joseph searched for him anxiously for three days (Luke 2:48). 

Since Joseph does not appear during the public life of Jesus, most biblical scholars consider that he likely had died before Jesus began his public ministry.   He has been named patron saint of the dying, since he passed from this world with Jesus and Mary at his side, just as, please God, all of us would like it to be when it's our turn to head homeward.  He is also the patron of the universal Church, of fathers, and of carpenters.

Let us pray: 

Saint Joseph, patron of the Church, watch over God's people with the same gentle care you watched over Jesus.  Help us and guide us just as you did for your adoped child, the eternally begotten Son of God.   Amen.

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