St. Joseph, whose feast we celebrate today, is tops in my book. We don’t know that much about him—carpenter, descendent of David, resident of Nazareth—but he represents to our faith the patience, devotion, and submission to God’s will that we desire in any father. Although not the biological source of Jesus’ genetic makeup, Joseph, we presume, helped shape the boy Jesus into the man he grew to be.
One thing that drives me absolutely crazy is when someone says to me, “Oh, when you have a child, then you’ll understand.” Naturally, with two children, I don’t get that very much anymore, but, back when someone would say that to me in that utterly patronizing tone that is born exclusively from the I-know-something-you-can’t-know perspective, it enraged me. In fact, it still does just to think about it. As an aside, let me share my absolute and rock-solid conviction that I do not any more appreciate God’s love for me as exemplified in the gift of his son now that I have children than I did before they were born. To suggest otherwise is arrogant and insulting.
Now, where were we? Oh, yes. Well, that being said, one theological insight I have gained since being married that I didn’t fully appreciate as a single man is Joseph’s devotion, which is described in today’s reading from Matthew (1:18-25). Here is a man of first century Palestine whose betrothed becomes pregnant by someone other than him. The honor killings still popular in parts of the Muslim world suggest that Joseph’s initial reaction—“being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly”—was a generous gift of the first order. Of course, his devotion doesn’t stop there. After learning in a dream that Mary had become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, he agrees to marry her anyway.
What did that do to his family? What did they think of their son, who married the kind of woman who would get pregnant with another’s child. Consider the shame that must have brought on Joseph, his parents, and his siblings. What did that do to his ego? Joseph faced the reality that he would be raising a child that wasn’t his. Every cry in the night, every momentous first, every celebration—all of them would be reminders of his false-patrimony. This wasn’t his child. His beloved bride had gestated, given birth to, and raised a little boy that he wasn’t really a part of…unless he decided to make the child his own.
Joseph does what very few of us could do. He takes the “good news,” which probably meant the death of his dream to father a child with his bride, and submits himself to it as fully as the virgin did. He images her devotion in his own role as step-father. He recognizes that his claim of ownership (over his life, over his marriage, over his children) stops at the point where God’s will takes over. And he lives with that. He accepts it. He embraces it.