Readings: 2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16; Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22; Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24
Our Catholic Faith tells me that Joseph was in no way the biological father of Jesus; our Mass readings tell me that incarnation is so much more than a biological process.
To be embodied is more than being an isolated organism. Perhaps an isolated organism is not even viable and only exits as a lifeless, laboratory specimen suspended in formaldehyde.
For the Son of God to be truly enfleshed, he could not just disguise himself in a body; he had to be born into the defining limits of ancestry and family, conception, nation, occupation…Saint Joseph is not just a replaceable component but a key contributor to the whole.
Significantly, when we first hear of Joseph in Matthew’s Gospel, he is conflicted: his bride-to-be is pregnant but he does not wish to expose her to shame. Conflict–seemingly impossible situations–is the substance of family life. But Joseph is able, with God’s help, to negotiate the problems to become the father of Jesus, in name and in practice.
The alternate Gospel for today’s solemnity is the episode from Luke’s Gospel of Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem at twelve years old, a narrative in which Joseph is a bit-player.
As mothers do, Mary rebukes her son. But Joseph’s saying nothing is quite important: he does not undercut the authority of his wife, on one hand. And on the other, he recognizes that Jesus, who is twelve years old, would be Bar Mitzvah–the son of [Jewish] observance–he is now an adult.
He accepts Jesus’ choices, one of the most important things a father can do to affirm an adult son. Joseph had truly become a father to Jesus and not just a glorified sitter. And his silence confirms that the Temple, and not their home in Nazareth, is the house of Jesus’ father, his real Father, who is the God of the Covenant.
It doesn’t matter how much we know or don’t know about Joseph. If we want some sense of who he is, we need only look at Jesus and Mary. We may not discover data but we will inevitably be touching his imprint on their lives.