Readings of the Day (Using the Matthew reading as the Gospel)
Today we have a lot of people doing unheralded work for the good of all of us: health care workers, food service workers, law enforcement, sanitation, delivery people, and the list goes on. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to quarantine ourselves effectively, we would have to expose ourselves repeatedly every day just to eat. Of course, it’s always the way of the world: we can see it better at times like these.
Saint Joseph was just such a man. We know little about him: he was a techton, which means a “worker of hard substances.” Carpentry was certainly part of that, as well as stone masonry and other building trades. He could have been management, a site supervisor or general contractor. His profession meant he had a mobility uncommon in that time: rather than being tied to a farm, he could find good work anywhere, and living in Nazareth meant he had at least 10 years of work in the city of Sepphoris, which the Romans were building 5 miles away during his lifetime.
We don’t know how old he was when he met Mary, and a man looking for a wife in those times didn’t usually ask if their intended was age appropriate. The Bible refers to Jesus having brothers and sisters: one explanation is that Joseph already had children, perhaps he lost his wife and needed another to help take care of them. Perhaps he was already a grandfather, we don’t know. Then comes an apparent calamity: Mary is pregnant with another man’s child. Making it public means degradation and perhaps a stoning, and Joseph’s heart isn’t that hard. He wants to do the right thing in a bad situation.
Then an angel appears to him in a dream. Something great is going on and he has a chance to be part of it. Matthew doesn’t give us Joseph’s emotional response; he might have thought “Darn, do I have to put up with a baby again?” But his heart is open to God’s word, even though he could have doubted the dream, and he takes Mary into his home and embraces the new world coming to pass under his roof.
We have a lot of tough decisions every day to make the best of. We wonder sometimes whether we’re up to the calamities we face. We wonder if we’re getting God’s Will for us right. Joseph gives us an example of faith, even though like a lot of men, we don’t know much about what’s going on in his heart. Joseph is humble, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing, unconcerned about getting recognition for it. Joseph is willing to listen to the Spirit, to act from compassion instead of reason, act from love rather than pride. Joseph is us, no matter what our age or our state of life, the patron of workers and in my eyes, the patron of ordinary people.
We are ordinary people, called to care for Jesus without recognition or obvious reward. Jesus comes to us everyday through friends and strangers, through the poor and the wounded, through the weak and the powerless. Like Joseph, our call of faith is to do what needs to be done, and our reward will be what Joseph’s is: eternal life.