In this week’s Gospel, we are treated to one of the most singular examples of graceful humility seen anywhere in the Bible.
The exemplar is St. Joseph, the fiancé of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. Joseph is a figure both remarkable and mysterious – remarkable in dignity, compassion, and faith; mysterious in that he so quickly disappears from Biblical accounts without explanation.
We are told, in various New Testament accounts, that Joseph was a carpenter (although some translators say the word actually used indicates not just a woodworker but, more broadly, a “craftsman” of one sort or another). We are told in this week’s Gospel that Joseph is “a righteous man,” and also one of great decency who was “unwilling to expose [Mary] to public disgrace.”
But, except for one story about Jesus staying behind in the Temple when he was 12, we are told nothing else about Joseph after the first, peripatetic years of his adopted son’s life. Unlike Mary, he is not still around (or at least not mentioned) when Jesus begins his ministry, nor (except in one snippet) is he even mentioned in retrospect once that ministry began.
But we do know these things, according to the Gospels: Joseph was obedient to God and a devout observer of Judaic law. Joseph was a man of reasonably decent social standing. And Joseph was a man willing to go great lengths (literally, all the way to Egypt) to protect a child who by blood was not his own son.
By logical extension, we know something far more important about Joseph. We know that God Almighty trusted him. The Lord chose Joseph, of all men who ever lived, to be the protector and the step-father for the Lord’s own son.
This is quite an honor. It is also quite a responsibility.
As we enter this final week before Christmas Day, then, let us emulate Joseph by reflecting on our own responsibilities – ones we meet, and ones we may not be meeting as well as we ought. Let us reflect on what (or whom) it is that we are meant to protect, on what or whom we are meant to support, and not least on the ways in which we by our actions should provide a model for others.
Do we handle ourselves with the humility, the decency, the kindness, the forbearance, and the grace of Mary’s husband? Do we handle ourselves with the devotion, the energy, the sacrifice, and the sense of responsibility of Jesus’ earthly stepfather? Are we strong enough, respectable enough, respectful enough, and faithful enough (in all senses of the word)?
If we are entrusted with a responsibility either grave or glorious (or both at the same time), a responsibility daunting in its depth and breadth, will we prove up to the challenge?
Let us strive, for all these questions, to provide the answer of a resounding yes.
Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist. He has an undergraduate degree in Theology from Georgetown University and has served for years in various forms of ecumenical lay leadership.