Br. Julian Mizelle, OHC
Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 2012 (transferred to March 21)
2 Samuel 7:4,8-16
St Joseph and child Jesus - an icon by Joseph Brown
exposed in our church with forsythia from the garden
I might have been 7 or 8 years old. I might have been younger. My father came to me one day saying get in the car—we’re going to the store—I need to buy a gift. So off we went to Sears. To a small child the gift my Father picked out was dazzling; bright and shiny with lots of gizmos. I was quite excited to see it going home with us. And I waited with eager anticipation for the gift to be opened. What was the occasion? It was my Mother’s birthday. What was the gift? A bright and shinny new Vacuum Cleaner! (Well...it did say “Sears Best” on it.) Things were rather icy and solemn around our home for the next several days. I knew it was a time for me to keep quiet and lay low. But by the weekend another bright and shinny present arrived—a new television, a color one (our very first). And on Sunday evening we all set down to watch Bonanza in color. And once again there was peace in the kingdom.
The experience of seeing my Mother receive a vacuum cleaner as a gift became a powerful lesson to me that one does not show their love or honor a woman’s birthday with a household cleaning appliance. It is not a gift that says “I love you” and to this day I have never given anyone, other than myself, the gift of a vacuum cleaner.
Few of us grow up with perfect role models. Most of us feel challenged to become a role model for others. When an outstanding role model comes along in our society we want to make them a hero. Simply put, being a role model is a daunting task. But in St. Joseph I have found one who is a very powerful role model.
The scriptural record surrounding Joseph is one of powerful silence. There is not one single word recorded in the scriptures that Joseph spoke. We only know him through his dreams and actions. We know that he was a descendant of King David, a carpenter, that he shared intimacy with God through his dreams, and that he was responsive to God through what he discerned, and he was even willing to take risks through his obedience to God. Today’s Gospel reading from Luke is the last time Joseph appears in the chronology of Jesus’ life. Some 20 years later when Jesus begins his public ministry Joseph has simply been dropped from the narrative.
As I ponder the life of Joseph I am asking the question who was his role model? After all no one had ever been married to the Mother of God before. Husbands being jealous of another man have been common in all times and in all cultures. But what do you do when the other man is the God you worship. It must have been terribly conflicting for him. How did Joseph find himself and carve out an identity in such a relationship. Let’s be honest—being married to the Mother of God would simply be intimidating.
Even though the scriptural record is thin we find Joseph fulfilling his role as protector and caregiver in the Holy Family. It was through his sheltering arms that he expressed his deep love and intimacy for Mary. And it was through his obedience to God that he was able to protect the ones he loved, sacrificing his safety for theirs.
If fulfilling his role as husband, protector and caregiver to the Virgin Mother of God was not enough, Joseph also had to find his way to be the earthly father to the Incarnate Son of God, the Christ child Jesus. Today’s Gospel reading gives us the story of a precocious and independent 12 year old lad asserting himself in the temple—the same temple he would cleanse some 20 years later by throwing out the money changers. But over the years many writers have taken great license in creating stories that might have happened (or could have happened) when Jesus was a young child.
Anne Rice tells the tale of a young Jesus getting into an argument with another boy. With a sudden slip of the tongue he curses him and the child drops dead. Realizing the seriousness of what has happened Jesus simply goes over to the child's home and raise him back to life. The child’s parents, not to mention the entire village, are both horrified and mystified by these events. Joseph simply weighs how to navigate through the unexplainable behavior of Jesus. Imagine trying to parent that!
Christopher Moore, in the national bestseller “Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ Childhood Pal” (and one of my all-time favorite books) takes an even more irreverent approach. The chid Jesus is in the yard playing with a lizard. He discovers that if he bites its head off he can bring it back to life. I’ll spare you the ensuing details.
Both of these stories represent the fertile imaginations of two gifted writers. What these stories do for me is to set my own imagination in motion to imagine what it was like to parent a child who could turn water into wine, walk on water, heal diseases and ailments, and even bring dead people back to life. There was no Dr. Spock, there was no Dr. Phil, there were no parenting guru’s or manuals for Joseph to turn to on how to parent the Incarnate Son of God.
Joseph was self-effacing and humble, strong and reliable. Joseph was a role model for real manhood. He was a godly man who lived above the low expectations of common culture. And he knew the real meaning of honoring and respecting women. Most of all he loved God regardless of the cost. And as with all of the great saints, when we look into their lives, we are pointed back to the life of Christ. We see Christ nature in them. Joseph would have it no other way.
All four of the New Testament Gospelers were talented writers themselves. None of them gave us humorous or far-fetched stories of the childhood of Jesus. However we also know they wrote with an agenda. Their agenda was simply to present to us Jesus the Christ, the Incarnation of God. That fact alone would have made it difficult to give Joseph a prominent role in the narrative. What the life of Joseph does say mirrors the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” What we celebrate on this feast of St. Joseph is the mystery of redemption and how Joseph played a significant role in God’s plan to save humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God’s redemptive work needed human agents to give their consent and their cooperation. Mary simply said “Let it be!” Joseph said nothing--he just acted and through those actions gave his consent to the divine dream of God’s loving plan.