Today the church remembers a saint that everyone knows, but no one knows much about: St. Joseph, Step-Father of Jesus and Companion of St. Mary.
St. Joseph is only mentioned in three of the four Gospels (Mark doesn’t seem to know about him, or doesn’t think he’s important enough to mention), but because the Christmas tales are so popular in our age, St. Joseph is part of that other holy Trinity: Jesus, Joseph, and Mary.
Matthew and Luke don’t even really agree on the genealogy of Jesus, but both trace Joseph through that singing Psalmist David, making a direct connection between Jesus and the House of David. Matthew indicates that St. Joseph was originally a resident of Bethlehem who made his home in Nazareth (which is how he met Mary for Matthew), but Luke says that Joseph was a longtime resident of Nazareth, and only went to Bethlehem for the census.
St. Joseph, like Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, seems to be a person without a known home, which I kind of like, because it means that St. Joseph could be anyone…like you, or me, and entrusted with the Christ-child for the sake of the world.
Scriptures say that he was a carpenter (though the Greek word used is kind of obscure and could mean anything from “artisan” to “rock mason”…I like to think he was an artist). The Gospels portray him as a fair individual, and a devout follower of Judaism who sought wisdom and understanding.
Because the Gospel accounts don’t mention him again, it is thought that he had died by the time Jesus is crucified. This is entirely plausible as marriages in the ancient world were often unequal in age, and wives typically outlived their spouses (hence why “widows and orphans” is noted so often in the scriptures). That all being said, nothing in the scriptures notes he was older, so why do we assume he might be?
I’m glad you asked…
There’s a fun (and fake) 2nd Century Gospel attributed to James the Less, a disciple of Jesus, that makes that claim. And in the 5th Century we find a History of Joseph the Carpenter that claims he was 89 (!) when he was a widower, and married Mary when he was 91 (!). That’s a stretch for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that hardly anyone in the ancient world lived that long.
The first commemorations to St. Joseph are recorded in the 8th Century from Northern France that calls him the artful “Spouse of Mary.” I prefer to think of him as the “Step-Father of Jesus” not only because the Gospels functionally portray him that way, but also because it gives a holy nod to the blended families that bless this world.
St. Joseph is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that everyone is called to be a step-father to the Divine Love Letter in this world.
We are all Josephs, no matter where we’re from.
-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations