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Celebrating an Ordinary Joe

506px-Guido_Reni_042Today 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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3 Responses to Celebrating an Ordinary Joe

  1. Paul Seymour March 20, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    Exactly why we named our first child Joseph or should I say it’s why the name appealed to me. My wife’s thoughts were the name is manly and can be shortened for the informal.

    That though is another aspect of the working man often given by friends by an affectionate name. We never know what it is for Joseph though. But he may have been well known “is this not Joseph the carpenters son”. Nathereth may have been small but big enough to have a number of such tradesman.

  2. Ian Paul March 20, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    That’s really interesting—a name with personal significance.

    In fact, Nazareth was very small in Jesus’ day. It was nearby Sepphoris (Zippora) that was the big place which supplied the work. (But you knew that…)

  3. Paul Seymour March 21, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    My apologies for the poor writing in my last comment below is the corrected form with a little further development, please feel free to do as you will with the first rather hurried comment.

    Exactly why we named our first child Joseph or should I say it’s why the name appealed to me. My wife’s thoughts were the name is manly and can be shortened for the informal.

    That though is another aspect of the working mans life, he is often given by friends an affectionate name, commonly an abbreviation. We will never know if it was so for Joseph, but I question; did he encourage that sort of friendship or was the manner of his son’s birth a factor that separated him from others.

    Names are so important to our self image as is the way they are used; when a chaplain at the YMCA I used to do a session on the meaning of our names (both formal and informal names) and look at issues of self worth through and our understanding of ourselves using our names as a key into understanding and starting the conversation.

    Coming back to Joseph he may have been well known “is this not Joseph the carpenters son”. Nathereth may have been small even very small but big enough to have a number of such tradesman. I often think that God choose Joseph well, as a carpenter could get the tools of his job anywhere so being a family in exile would not have been as bad as perhaps other trades would have been.

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