Father Joseph

Deborah Beach Giordano
© June 18, 2018

Mark 3:20-35 ~ told by Deborah

Wherever Jesus went, crowds followed him; he and his disciples couldn’t even sit down for a meal without being mobbed.

When Jesus’ family heard what was going on, they set out to bring him back home, because people were telling them, “He’s lost his mind; he’s gone crazy.”

The religious authorities from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit; that’s how he casts out demons: by using its power.”

Jesus spoke to the crowd and, as always, taught them in parables, “How can the devil cast himself out?” he asked, “If a country’s citizens are fighting one another, it will collapse. And if family members are at odds with one another, it’s no longer a family. So if Satan is fighting against himself, and is at odds with his demons, it’s all over for him.

“No one can break into a strong man’s house and steal his property unless they first tie him up; only then can the house be robbed.

“I’m telling you: people will be forgiven for every sort of sin and sacrilege; but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable, a monstrous sin.” (He said this because they had said that he was “possessed by an evil spirit.”)

It was about that time that his mother and his brothers and sisters arrived. They stood outside, asking for him.

From the midst of the crowd, someone called out to Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”

“My mother and my brothers and sisters?” Jesus frowned. He paused and then, looking at the people around him, said, “They’re right here. This is my mother and my brothers and and my sisters! Those who do the will of God are My family.”

Who Else?

There he is, conspicuous by his absence. While Jesus’ “mother and his brothers and sisters” are mentioned repeatedly, not a word is said about his (earthly) father. Why is that? Where is Joseph? What is he doing while Mary and the rest of the family are out chasing after Jesus? 

I asked a couple of people what they thought and, interestingly, got the same answer from both: “He’s probably at work.”

That makes sense to me; it’s how the story went when I was a child (and remains the same in many cases, even today); dad is enmeshed in work even when at home, and if not actively focused on keeping the wolf from the door, concerned with keeping the door on its hinges. Work and home maintenance, and then a hug and maybe a story before tucking the children into bed; the Story of Dad.

So it should come as no surprise that Saint Joseph is honored as the patron saint of workers. That sounds about right: he’s the guy at work in his shop, keeping the home secure while Mary and the other children are off in search of the missing Lamb — who appears to have gone astray. It also offers a terrific allegorical image: Joseph as a carpenter; one who built up and provided stability — structural integrity, we might say — to the home where Jesus was raised. Perfect. 

Credit Where Credit is Due

Joseph is mentioned in the Gospels only rarely, and I think that’s part of the reason he doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. Think about it: it required a huge leap of faith and secure sense of self to bring Mary into his home at the first (Matthew 1:18-25), knowing that he would be dealing with the inevitable smirking and gossip, not to mention the responsibility of raising this Child of uncertain origin: so strange, so unpredictable, at once in this world and yet not of it.

Yet over the years Joseph conducted himself with such confidence and integrity and abundant love that the townspeople referred to Jesus as “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55, Luke 4:22). There were no whispers or sly winks; the boy was Joseph’s, that’s how it was.

It is seems quite possible that Jesus’ understanding of his “Father in heaven” was influenced by the character of his father in Nazareth; this man of strength, faith, and devotion. 

Jesus told His disciples, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” ~ John 15:12-13

We could say that Joseph laid down his life — the life he might have had, instead taking up this demanding work of love: sheltering Mary and Jesus, watching over them; doing what was right, rather than what was easy. The story of the Prodigal Son could also have had its origin in the patient, caring carpenter who waited, steadfast and hopeful, for the return of the young man who went out into the wide world and got involved with tax collectors and drunks and sinners of every stripe (Matthew 9:11, 11:19, etc.).

We are are told, too, that Joseph understood what it was to hear and heed an angelic voice, to dream dreams and to take action accordingly (Mt 1:20-21, 2:13-20). He accepted a particular and personal calling and had pursued it with integrity and devotion, dedicating it as an offering to God.

It would seem that one who had a listening ear for divine instructions would also have a gift for listening to the dreams and desires of others. Perhaps there were quiet conversations in the workshop, their voices muffled by the sawdust covered floor, the air redolent with the fragrance of cedar shavings, where Jesus and Joseph would have shared the sacrament of honest, trusting communication. Nothing was hidden, nothing held back, no judgments, no condemnation. There Jesus was safe from all harm.

I think that may very well have been the case, as we know that when the practice of his ministry became intense — when Jesus was hounded by the religious authorities, pursued by crowds of the sick and the suffering demanding miracles; surrounded and stressed ….

then he came home.
~ Mark 3:19b 

Family Matters

In a time of great difficulty Jesus sought sanctuary, a refuge from the storm that was raging all around him. He came home to Nazareth — where he had known honesty and trust; where he had family, where there was understanding and kindness and safety. Perhaps the Lord did not find the peace he sought there — we are told that the mob followed along, the crush of people so great and constant that he and the disciples could not even sit down for a meal undisturbed — but he may have found what he needed in order to go on.

In the middle of a stifling, overcrowded room, Jesus was told that his family was calling for him, asking that he leave that place and follow them. It was then, there in Nazareth, his hometown, that the Lord proclaimed what it means to be a member of His family: it is not about blood and sinew or legal mandate, but of adoption: “those who do the will of God are My family!” — Just as Joseph followed the will of God in becoming an adoptive father to Jesus; acting in mercy, in kindness, in love. Joseph was truly a member of Jesus’ family.

Family is defined by love, not lineage.

The family of Christ are the generous, the gentle, the loving, the compassionate; they are the righteous ones who do what is good and kind and healing — regardless of whether it is easy or convenient or approved-of by their community. They lead not by force or coercion, but by example; inspiring and encouraging others, offering a listening ear, an open heart, a kind word.

Lasting Influence

There is another reason that Joseph may be absent from this part of Jesus’ story. Church tradition teaches that Mary was a widow by the time of the Lord’s trial and crucifixion. It is possible that by the time of this flight to Nazareth, Jesus’ earthly father had died. Yet his influence continued — and even, perhaps, grew stronger.

He has shown you, all of you, what is right. And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
        ~ Micah 6:8

On entering the town Jesus may have walked past Joseph’s workshop, tenderly reflecting on the many confidences shared, the prayers, problems, plans, they had discussed, and even the unresolved arguments that had never threatened their affection for one another. He would have remembered a thousand moments, a thousand acts of kindness, and offered grateful praise to the One Who Reigns in Heaven for the gift of a father’s love. 

Perhaps, too, the words, “your mother and your brothers and sisters are here,” struck Jesus as they did us: as emphasizing the absence of his adoptive father Joseph — one whom he knew to be as true and fully a member of his family as any blood relation. Perhaps that was the catalyst for the Lord Christ’s powerful affirmation of what it means to be a member of his family: the challenge to each of us to be as courageously loving and as faithful to our callings as Saint Joseph was to his.

Jesus said, “Those who do the will of God are My family.”

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

As we celebrate Father’s Day in the U.S., let us give grateful praise for all of our “unsung hero”  dads; the men who set an example for us of love and strength and sheer persistence.

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About inklingscommunity

I am a struggling Christian, committed pacifist, near-obsessive recycler, incurable animal lover, inveterate tree-hugger; a nature mystic, a socialized introvert, an advocate for the vulnerable, an opponent of exploiters.
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