Dec 31, 2008

The Holy Family--Joseph's family and God's

NOTE: Edited due to a stupid error on my part. 4th graph below is now correct--reading that Joseph died before Jesus died--not before he was born. I simply mis-typed. Apologies for the confusion.)

A few years ago my wife and I decided that we would look into adopting a child. We found that the cost was relatively expensive and we wanted (for a number of reasons) to insure that we could adopt a toddler with no special needs and found that this was actually a relatively unusual thing to come across. It turns out that most adoptions are either newborn babies or are much older children. After a long period of discernment, we decided to table the idea of adoption for some time until we were more financially and even emotionally stable. I wanted badly to be a father but have been unable to do so through natural means and now am even finding it difficult to adopt a child. While my dog feeds some of my parental longings, he is not a child but rather a canine best friend. I had to come to terms that I may indeed not ever become a father.

Throughout that time (and ever since then, actually) I began to pray to St. Joseph for guidance. Like myself he too found himself in some strange circumstances. Scholars tell us that St Joseph was probably around 30 (a ripe old age for someone at that point in antiquity) and a craftsman of some sort (some say Carpenter but he was probably a bit more than that). He was probably a widower who had made a deal to marry another young woman and now that time had come. Mary a young girl of about 14 was his betrothed. And then it all fell apart.

The teen was pregnant and he had not yet taken her into his home. So how could this be? Think of the scandal that this must have caused. Mary was probably accused of being a loose woman and Joseph was most likely embarrassed that he let his wife-to-be go off gallivanting with someone else. Perhaps Mary didn't want to marry him at all and so, she decided that this would be a way out.

However, Jewish law gave Joseph the right to stone Mary for becoming pregnant. And because Joseph was "a righteous man" it would be natural for others to suggest that he would do so. I often wonder if Joseph ever considered going through with this? What we know from scripture is that Joseph indeed decided to "divorce her quietly." It would spare everyone the embarrassment and would allow him to remain ritually pure and not the husband of some harlot. But something with Joseph did not sit right here. And thus he can't even sleep soundly--he begins to dream and God takes that opportunity to talk to Joseph to assure him that all is well and that he should take Mary as his wife. Later he also convinced him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt even when that would go against any Jewish person's common sense (didn't we escape from Egypt into the promised land? Why would I want to go there?). The worst part of Joseph's experience is that he most likely died before Jesus died (since we don't see him at the foot of the cross) and never really figures out what the whole picture means.

But, Joseph, nevertheless, trusts in God and believes that all will be well just because God says so--even when his own experience tells him to think differently.

Do I ever have faith like that? Do I think that I will be OK even if God has decided that I won't be a father? DO I think that all will be well when the world often seems upside down? Do I consider that things might not be askew just because I don't always get what I want? Do I ever trust God enough to lead me when things seem dark?

If I'm honest with myself I'll see that I'm really no Joseph. That I want everything tied up in a nice neat package where life is predictable. And life, as Joseph knew all too well is rarely ever that easy. And trusting in God doesn't make it any easier but rather, it most likely makes them all the more harder.

The good news in the end is that Joseph was able to raise Jesus into a man who was able to see such compassion for the poor. He was able to awaken people to see all the good that was in them and make simple fisherman disciples and the founders of a church that still exists two thousand years later. Are we able to trust God that much when we may not even see the plan completed?

Perhaps therein is the point. Before God's kingdom is ever re-established--most of us will long be gone from this earth. Do we have faith strong enough to let go and trust that God really knows what he's doing? Do we have enough faith to allow God to use us without really knowing how it will all end?

I hope so. Because if so, then we are like Joseph.


kmulford said...

Thanks for a thought-provoking post, which I arrived at via a link from plurker "angelsteph".

Our 16yo son was very bothered by the absence of a Joseph in the Christmas services at our own Willow Creek Church this year. It didn't seem prudent to discuss the idea of an "immaculate conception" in the presence of our 9yo son, so I instead encouraged him to e-mail his questions to the church's production team. I'd nearly forgotten his concerns until I read your post.

At one point, you state that "he most likely died before Jesus is born". This would help me understand a possible explanation to Joseph's absence in our nativity story. However, later you state that "in the end... Joseph was able to raise Jesus into a man..." so I find myself once again confused. I do realize that the Bible is a collection of many men's tellings of the events of those days, and that scholars will debate the accuracy of one detail or another until eternity.

Nonetheless, I'd be interested in your further thoughts on this aspect of Joseph's place in the Christmas story.

P.S. Fix the typo in your post's title for better Google results...

kmulford said...

In the absence of your response to my comment, this discussion took place:

god googler said...

My mistake---I meant to write --most likely died before Jesus DIED! It has been fixed.

god googler said...

In reference to your question however, Joseph is often given short shrift in Nativity scenes and unjustly so. Scripture tells us very little about him other than him being an upright man of the law. I would ask your pastor what reason he might have for leaving him out. It might be as simple as someone dropped the statue and it was too damaged to put back in and maybe the church needs someone to donate a new one. That might also be an opportunity for your 16 year old to plan a fund-raiser to get the money for a new statue and possibly also start him on the road to a deep devotion to the great saint who raised Jesus into manhood.

Googling God

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