Joseph, Journeyman Carpenter

This week in worship we’ll turn our attention to Joseph with our scripture lesson from Matthew 1:18-25, which describes the culturally delicate situation Joseph finds himself in as he learns that Mary is pregnant, and he knows for sure that he isn’t the father. Even before he has angel visit him in a dream with the usual assurance of “do not fear”, Joseph shows us who he is: a just and righteous man who did not want to bring the full force of the religious law against Mary. After the angel’s visit, Joseph “doubles down” on his sense of justice and righteousness and continues to do the right thing. 

Through it all, Matthew doesn’t record any words that Joseph spoke, nor does he speak anywhere else in the Bible. Our Christmas pageants routinely have him pleading with the innkeeper for a place to stay in Bethlehem, but that doesn’t appear in the Bible. All we have in the Bible is the record of Joseph’s actions, which as the saying goes, speak louder than words. The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Bailey, a Presbyterian Missionary to the Middle East and a biblical scholar, writes, “Obviously, Joseph exhibits a definition of ‘justice/righteousness’ that goes beyond the common understanding of any age. The just person is here not one who supports a strict and impartial observance of the law. Rather, the just person is defined as one who has compassion for the weak and the downtrodden.”

To put it bluntly, Mary had virtually no rights in this situation and could have been subjected to very severe punishment by village elders. Joseph does the compassionate, just and loving thing, and the rest is history.

Joseph is often pictured as being a whole lot older than Mary, who was likely a teenager. While it is certain that he was older, it’s not clear that he was decades older, as he is sometimes portrayed in art works, almost as a Father figure not just to Jesus but also to Mary. Our bulletin cover will show what I feel is a more “real life” portrayal of Joseph.

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