Joseph does not speak in any of the four Gospels. By the time Jesus’ public ministry begins, Joseph is no longer mentioned and we do not know what happens to him.
While this can present a challenge when reflecting during this Solemnity of Joseph, there are advantages as well. Not only can we make reasonable inferences from Joseph’s actions referred to in Scripture, we can also understand these spaces where the Biblical text stays silent as an invitation for our imagination to play in them, a practice St. Ignatius invites in his Spiritual Exercises.
A good place to begin is with Matthew’s Gospel for today.
In Joseph’s and Mary’s first century Palestinian context, Mary was in a morally suspect situation; she was betrothed to Joseph and pregnant with a child that was not his. Mosaic Law at the time prescribed a death penalty — death by stoning to be exact — in the case of adultery (Deut. 22:21-23). Mary’s position was perilous.
Even before his life-changing dream, it seems Joseph made up his mind to practice mercy and not expose Mary to shame.
With the intervention of the divine by way of his dream, Joseph responds to God’s call by doing even more, taking in Mary and providing for, protecting, and loving her and her unborn Jesus despite the risk.
Let’s be clear: we can reasonably infer and imagine that Joseph saved Mary from the death penalty, allowing Jesus to be born.
Showing us how grace operates on nature, Joseph’s basic human decency and his openness to and cooperation with God provided the ground for Jesus’ birth, God’s salvific action in the world.
Luke’s Gospel provides an alternative reading for today’s Solemnity, and there we learn that when Jesus was twelve years old, Mary and Joseph traveled with him to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and somehow left him behind.
When they found him, Jesus was in the temple amidst teachers who were “astounded at his understanding and his answers'' (Luke 2:47). How did that happen, especially in light of recent scholarship opining that Mary was illiterate?
We learn in Proverbs 1:8 the responsibility of both parents for the education of their child. Traditionally, the father taught the son while the mother taught her daughter domestic skills.
From this we can infer and imagine Joseph teaching Jesus about the Covenant, Mosaic Law, and Scripture as well as the elements of his trade. And we can infer and imagine that in addition to the anxiety Joseph shared with Mary over their missing son, Joseph being recognized as an excellent and knowledgeable teacher.
Considering Joseph’s experiences of God in Jesus’ early life, can you imagine the depth and breadth of Joseph’s teaching?
With St. Joseph, let us pray for the willingness to listen to God’s call, to be ready to cooperate with God’s Spirit to do even more than what is decent, right, and legal, and the grace to convey that encounter with God in all that we do, say, and teach.
Congregation of St. Joseph
Catholic Mobilizing Network is a founding member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Mission Network. We are proud to extend the CSJ's mission of unity among the dear neighbor in our work to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice.