January 9, 2021 - Pastor Message01/24/2021
THE YEAR OF ST. JOSEPH THE SOURCES
On December 8th, Pope Francis officially declared 2021 the Year of St. Joseph, a time for the whole Church to reflect on Joseph’s example and entrust ourselves to his patronage. Pope Francis has done this in response to the many crises facing the Church today, crises that will be resolved, not by the powers that be, but by the choices and actions of everyday people, like Joseph. But if everyday people are to look to Joseph for inspiration and support as they strive to resolve the crises of our time, then we need to really get to know the man. That can be tricky, because we really don’t know much about him. What we do know comes from two major sources: Scripture and Tradition.
Scripture, our primary source of information, says very little directly about Joseph, though some information can be gleaned indirectly from our knowledge of the time and culture in which he lived. All four gospels identify Joseph as Jesus’ adoptive father: Matthew, Luke, and John by name; and Mark by simply calling Jesus “the carpenter’s son” (Mark 6:3). Beyond that, only Matthew and Luke mention Joseph any further, in their accounts of Christ’s birth, and they do so in very different ways. In Matthew’s account (1:18 2:23), Joseph is the primary actor in the drama of the Holy Family. He receives multiple messages from an angel of God telling him where to go and what to do, and Joseph leads the Holy Family according to God’s will. In Luke’s account (1:5 2:52), Joseph plays more of a supporting role, with Mary at centerstage. In neither account does Joseph say anything.
The gospels identify Joseph as being of the tribe of Judah and the House of King David. However, the last king descended from David was Zedekiah, whose sons were all killed and who himself was taken captive to Babylon, where he died almost 600 years before Christ. Thus, while having royal ancestors, Joseph did not live the life of royalty. He was what we would call today blue collar, working as a carpenter in the small, rural village of Nazareth.
The gospels further describe Joseph as being an observant Jew, righteous but merciful. He faithfully followed the precepts of the law, observing all that God commanded, as we see in the story of the presentation of Jesus at the temple, and he was attentive to God’s voice, as we see in his response to God’s call through the angel. But we know that he also acted with mercy, as we see in his plan to divorce Mary privately when he discovered her pregnancy out of wedlock rather than expose her to public shame and possibly even death, since adultery, which he must have suspected, was punishable by stoning.
That is really all we know about Joseph from Scripture, which is not much by volume, but provides tremendous depth for our spiritual reflection as we journey together through this new year. Next week we will look at what we can learn about Joseph from Tradition. In the meantime, I encourage you to prayerfully reread the gospel passages in which Joseph appears and get to know this great saint even more.
Fr. Marc Stockton