Friday, August 24, 2012


A Young St. Joseph with the boy Jesus

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Though we know little about him, St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus, played a critical role in the Holy Family. Most of our information concerning St. Joseph comes from the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. There are also several apocryphal accounts and legends regarding both Joseph and Mary that may, or may not, provide further illumination.
Both Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 refer to Joseph as a tekton, a craftsman. Tradition has settled on his craft being wood working, thereby making him a carpenter. Whether he performed general work such as making yokes for oxen, plows and so on, worked mainly in the construction trade, or did fine woodwork such as carvings and finish details, can never be known. We know Joseph was a man of humble means since he presented the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons when he took Jesus to the Temple for Mary’s purification. An offering of birds was the standard for those who could not afford a lamb. We also know that he was a holy and observant Jew since the Gospel refers to him as “a righteous man.”
Matthew 13:53-56 says, “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’” The question would appear to have been settled then and there. However, that is not the case. The three major divisions of Christianity have each developed their own viewpoint on this question. Each of these revolves around Mary as much as Joseph.
Luther argued that correct interpretation of scripture rests not with the Church but “in the heart of the pious believer.” This has led the majority of Protestants to follow the practice of plain or explicit interpretation of the Bible. This rule says that when the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other; take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and fundamental truths, indicates otherwise.
At first glance, this passage from Matthew appears to be exactly such a situation. However, it comes with certain suppositions, making it problematic. Mary and Joseph are now assumed to be the parents of at least six additional children after the virginal, and miraculous, conception of Jesus. Joseph would also have to have been young enough to father this brood.
We know Jesus was the firstborn, and therefore the oldest, because they made an offering of two turtledoves or pigeons at the Temple (Luke 2:22-24) to redeem him as required by Numbers 18:15: “…nevertheless the first-born of man you shall redeem…” This becomes contradictory when one considers that Jesus assigned John with the task of caring for his mother from the cross. Why did he need to do this if he had four younger brothers? Tradition says John moved Mary from Jerusalem to Ephesus to protect her from harm. Wouldn’t her family have been upset by this, and expected her to stay with them rather than John, a non-relative?
An Old St. Joseph Holds the Baby Jesus
Among other differences, the Eastern Church holds to a doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. In their traditions, Joseph was a widower with children when they married. So instead of having siblings, Jesus has step-brothers and step-sisters.
Making Joseph an older man solves two other issues. First, if he were not searching for a wife in the fullest sense of the word, but rather a caretaker, it becomes more reasonable to view him as “a most chaste spouse”…a term the Church has applied to him from earliest times. Secondly, making him older conforms to the tradition that Joseph had died by the time Jesus began his public ministry. (The last mention of Joseph in the Bible occurs when the 12-year-old boy Jesus is left behind at the Temple and he is not mentioned at the wedding feast in Cana.) The Orthodox view makes Jesus the youngest child in the family. And, since he was Mary’s only child, he would be solely responsible for her care when Joseph died. Were Joseph not dead, her care would have been a moot point.
Where the Protestant view tends to a younger Joseph and the Orthodox view to an older, the Catholic view demands neither. While agreeing with the Eastern view on Mary’s perpetual virginity and Joseph’s death prior to Jesus’ public ministry, the Catholic Church believes the Holy Family consisted of three persons: Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
This, of course, necessitates charging John with her care since there was no one else. This still leaves the question of his “brothers” and “sisters.” The Bible provides a list of these brothers. If they were not siblings, who were they? A real and close kinship between Jesus and these brethren is clear. But the term brethren, or brother, can be applied to step-brothers as well as to blood brothers, and in Scripture is often extended to near or even distant relatives, like cousins.
Comparing John 19:25 to Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40, we find that Mary of Cleophas, or Clopas, was the sister of Mary the Mother of Jesus. We know she is Clopas’ wife because that is the way a married woman would have been identified. So this Mary is the same Mary who was the mother of James the Less and of Joseph, or Joses. Isn’t James the Lesser named in the list of apostles as the son of Alpheus? Yes, but it is commonly recognized that Clopas and Alpheus are different transcriptions of the same Aramaic word, Halphai.
We know nothing of Joses, or Joseph. Jude, however, is the author of the Epistle of Jude. He is identified Judas Jacobi, Jude the brother of James, in the Douay Version of Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13. It was Greek custom for a man to append his brother's name instead of his father's when the brother was better known. In his Epistle, Jude calls himself the brother of James.
Simon, like Joseph, remains a bit of a mystery. Many commentators identify him as Symeon, or Simon, who, according to Hegesippus, was a son of Clopas and succeeded James as Bishop of Jerusalem. Others have identified him as the Apostle Simon the Cananean (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18) or Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). The grouping of James, Jude (or Thaddeus), and Simon, after the others, but before Judas Iscariot, seems to indicate a connection between them.
So two, and possibly three, of these cousins were among Jesus’ Apostles. This seems to be verified in 1 Corinthians 9:5 where Paul writes, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” The mention of Cephas (Peter) at the end indicates that St. Paul, after speaking of the Apostles in general, calls special attention to the more prominent ones, the brothers (brethren) of the Lord and Cephas.
Some would object that the brethren of the Lord couldn’t have been Apostles since just months before his death they didn’t believe in him (John 7:3-5). This is based on a misreading of the text. They didn’t doubt his powers, what they misunderstood was his Messianic mission. They wanted him to declare himself a temporal leader. This expectation remained alive among the Apostles even after his resurrection.
The final objection to the Catholic position references Matt 1:24-25, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son...” It can be demonstrated from other examples that the phrase firstborn son doesn’t necessarily imply that there were, or were not, other children. Nor does the phrase knew her not until she had borne a son necessarily imply that he knew her afterwards.
Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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