Today we pause in our Lenten observance to celebrate the feast of a just man. How would we have known about Joseph of Nazareth at all, had he not been chosen in God’s wisdom to preside over the family of Mary and Jesus? We really know nothing else about him.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? These words of Nathaniel to Philip reported by St. John’s Gospel are a classic example of our cluelessness when it comes to appreciating God’s mind. Our God is a God of wonders, ever full of surprises for his slow children. What came out of Nazareth was a man who holds the culminating place in Scripture as the just man of God. What came out of Nazareth was nothing less than a woman–we would say an adolescent girl–who consented to God’s request to share in a singular way in the life and death of the long awaited Messiah. What came out of Nazareth, through her, was the One who came forth from the Father, the very Word of God, who chose to dwell there, of all places, among us.
Humanly speaking, what other models to help him understand his role in God’s plan did Jesus have growing up than Joseph and Mary? He was taught what every child was taught by his parents: to read the Scriptures, to write; to respect God’s creation through the skill of a worker in wood. So he grew in the deep understanding of the mind of his heavenly Father through the two souls who first taught him say his first prayers, with whom he worshipped in the town’s synagogue every Sabbath. Joseph and Mary formed Jesus for the mission no one else could. They were the chosen of God for that task. Yet we have not a single word of Joseph anywhere in the Gospels. We have the good fortune to hear the words Mary spoke–precious few words but of profound import–but not one word of Joseph. The Gospels only describe examples of his behavior and example speaks louder than words.
Joseph’s example shouts to us from the first pages of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, as God intended they should! How many times have I glided past the references to Joseph’s actions as if he were a servant lurking in the shadows or behind the scene. Yet his role is vital for us to grasp. His presence in the Gospels proved essential to the world’s salvation for Joseph was a just man. In Hebrew, the greatest thing that can be said of a person, before God and in the eyes of the people, is that he is a just man; that’s all we’re told about Joseph of Nazareth. That’s all that needs to be said. That’s all we should ever desire from God for ourselves: a just man, a faithful man.
Recall the story Jesus told of the two men who went up to the Temple to pray. One was a stickler for the observance of every prescription of God’s Law, strict in his fasts, scrupulous in paying tithes. The other was a tax collector, a betrayer of his people and an extortionist, despised by this very Pharisee. But the despised tax collector asked only for God’s mercy, the forgiveness of his sins. Which one, Jesus challenges us, went home justified, a just man? The perfect observer of the Law’s demands or the one who humbled his heart before God? God’s ways are never man’s ways; God sees into the human heart–Lord help us! Joseph was a just man in the eyes of God who saw into his heart. He was the one God chose to be the earthly protector of his divine Son and the husband of his sinless daughter. What greater honor could we claim for Joseph of Nazareth? Who better than he should we wish to learn from than the just man whom God chose? Who better to imitate or ask to intercede for us?
Good Saint Joseph, we pray that you protect the Church, in such great need today, the Church of him you called your son. We ask you to be with each of us who cry out confidently to you, just as your foster-son did in your home in Nazareth. Good Saint Joseph, God’s just one, help us to become like you.