Today is the feast of Joseph of Nazareth in the Common Worship and Revised Common Lectionaries. Reading about him this morning reminded me of an excellent reflection on Joseph by Mark Greene of LICC from 2009. It is a great example of a short, rhetorically crafted reflection—and also offers plenty to think about.
Ordinary Joe – An Unsung Hero
There are many characters in the cast of the Christmas story that have gripped the Church’s imagination but there’s one that has rarely had a place in the spotlight.
There’s the Magi, exotic and somehow still gleaming in their silks after the long, dusty road from the East; there’s Gabriel, winged, magnificent, fearsome and gentle, chosen to make an offer that might be refused; there’s Simeon satisfied, no, exhilarated by something apparently so small – not even a hope fulfilled, just a hope assured; and, of course, there’s Mary, young, vulnerable but open to God’s plan and singing out words that will last forever.
And then there’s Joe. Honest, solid Joe.
The carpenter. The man in the background. Almost always depicted as so much older than Mary, even by Rembrandt. Old enough to be her father – the protector, not the lover, of a young bride. There’s Joe ushering the donkey along the road; there’s Joe being turned away by the innkeepers; there’s Joe watching the Wise Men offer their gifts. No prophetic songs soar from his heart. In fact, the Bible records not a single word of his, and he slips out of the story without even a sentence to mark his passing.
He’s a craftsman, a working man. God did not entrust his son to be fathered by a rabbi or a scribe or a Pharisee or a rich merchant but by Joe. A man who did not need an angel to appear him to change the direction of his life but only a dream. A man who put God’s agenda for his betrothed before his own hopes. A man who left his home and his business for the sake of the girl he loved and the God he loved. A man who set aside the sexual expression of his love for Mary until after Jesus’ birth, just as his son would set aside the joys of marriage and sexual love. A man who risked Herod’s murderous intent and was ready to lay down his life for his bride, just as his son would be ready to lay down his life for his bride – the church.
Maybe Jesus learned a thing or two from honest, solid Joe.
In an era where we like our heroes articulate, powerful and sparkling, Joe offers a different model. The Bible uses a telling phrase to describe him – he was a good man. Would that be epitaph enough for us? Good old Joe.
Collect for Joseph of Nazareth
God our Father,
who from the family of your servant David
raised up Joseph the carpenter
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son
and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
give us grace to follow him
in faithful obedience to your commands;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
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