Dutiful Joseph

 In Earl McClure

In my previous post I discussed graceful Mary in her acceptance of the role of the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today I want to look at Joseph and his role as the earthly father of Jesus. The birth narrative in Matthew 1 opens with Joseph discovering that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant with a child that Joseph knew was not his own. He “resolved to divorce her quietly” (v. 19) so that Mary would not be shamed, but “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” and told him to wed Mary, for the child “which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (v. 20). Joseph swallowed his pride and accepted his role as father to a Son that belonged to Someone else. Some speak of Joseph’s honor in taking on this commitment, and I don’t deny that, but let’s look at another facet of Joseph’s character, his sense of duty.

The image that accompanies this blog is a photo that I took when Norma and I traveled to Israel. In Nazareth is Saint Joseph’s church, built over the site believed to be where the house in which the Holy Family lived once stood. This painting on a wall in a corridor under the church depicts the family in a typical home setting. On the right is a young Jesus, perhaps in His late teens or early twenties. In the center is Mary kneading dough in front of the hearth prior to baking the family’s daily bread. In the background on the left is Joseph.

That seems to be an appropriate image of the human father of Jesus, in the background. None of Joseph’s words were recorded in the Bible, and the last time he made an appearance was in Jerusalem searching for Jesus when He was 12 years old. No mention is made of his death or where he was buried; he just seems to be a man of mystery who vanished from the pages of Scripture. But I believe Joseph’s influence was much deeper than that. If you look closely at Joseph’s left hand, I believe you will see that he is holding a scroll. I know nothing of the painter’s motives or intentions in depicting Joseph this way, but I believe the symbolism is that Joseph possessed knowledge and it was his duty to pass on that knowledge to his adopted Son. What knowledge? Every Jewish boy had to learn a trade; Jesus’ trade was as a carpenter (Mark 6:3), and He would have learned it from His father. Joseph would have taught Jesus about the satisfaction in a job well done (John 19:30), in having courage to do the right thing in the face of opposition (Matthew 12:9-14), and how to treat a woman with honor and dignity (John 4:1-30). Finally, Joseph would have been responsible for teaching the boy Jesus knowledge of Scripture: the Law and the Prophets and the Writings that make up the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. Jesus learned the rudiments of Judaism from Joseph and built on that foundation with knowledge from the rabbis and from the Holy Spirit. 

Joseph was many things: honorable, faithful, responsible. I think we should add dutiful. Joseph accepted his role as the earthly father of the Messiah, and he carried out that role with a high sense of duty. This Advent season let us remember not just the Christ child Jesus and His graceful mother Mary but let us also remember Joseph who dutifully stood in the background and performed his role without seeking recognition and accolade. Let us remember Joseph as a role model of what a father should be.


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