Monday, March 14, 2011

Faith Works 3-19

Faith Works 3-19-11

Jeff Gill


St. Joseph, Keep Watch Over Us



March 19 is the day in liturgical Christian calendars when Mary's husband, Joseph, is remembered. He's also honored on May 1 as "St. Joseph the Worker" which was a late 19th century attempt to steal some of the May Day socialist celebration, but that would be a very different subject.


We know relatively little about Joseph, but in truth we have more detail about him than many Biblical figures. There's description of him in both Matthew and Luke's accounts, and he comes off quite well.


Joseph is clearly respected, of good family – that whole "house and lineage of David" thing – and a worker, in wood.


In fact, later comments about Joseph by way of Jesus (Mt. 13:55) indicate that he was a "tekton," which means he was a bit more than a carpenter. Engineer or architect might be stretching a point, but a "tekton" in the literature of the time referred to a man who took the precious and rare commodity of wood, and used it to build, both directly and also for making the forms around which masonry would be shaped, such as an arch.


Once finished, the wood bracing would be knocked apart (carefully) with a mallet and pried apart, then reused. A tekton had a variety of skills in both wood and stone, and had to visualize the entire structure as it went up, and plan into the future for how, say, a half-dozen sets of forms would be placed and removed to build what might be dozens of arches in the finished building.


Then there's the question of his age. He's not called old, not exactly. The image of Joseph as an older father, whether at the side of Mary in the manger or on the road to Egypt after the visit of the Magi, is because after Jesus' childhood, to about twelve or thirteen, Joseph is clearly dead. We don't hear about his tragic death or the odd accident, it's just taken for granted that when Jesus reappears, narratively, at about 30 years old, Joseph is no more.


Add in the apparent set of step-brothers (this gets into the debate about Joseph, Mary, and if they had children after Jesus, a whole 'nother story), and the weight of scholarship tends to see them as Joseph's children by a first marriage, and there's something about the story of Joseph's dreams, encounters with angels, and ultimate acceptance of Mary, his pregnant betrothed, that feels right about that.


Joseph has some miles and some understanding on him when first we meet, and so there's a first Mrs. J, left unmentioned as were most women of that era, and then a later in life marriage that is a source of some conversation back in Nazareth ("is this not the carpenter's/tekton's son?" is not meant as a simple statement of fact, I'm thinking). The Joseph we start to piece together from our hints and asides, though, is a man who can handle a little talk in the taverns, and shrug it off with grace and dignity.


Since Mark 6:3 calls Jesus a "tekton," we know one more thing for sure about Joseph. He taught his son his trade, as any good father would, then or now. If your craft and skills and tools made a way for you in the world, it was that you handed on, more than coins or gold or even land. Joseph did that for Jesus, his son who was whispered of as "Mary's son," a sly insult which implied that Joseph was not his father.


Tradition rightly calls Joseph the father of Jesus, even if that doesn't tell the whole story. The old Irish cry of "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" may put old Joe third, but he's part of the Holy Family. God asked of him a choice, a decision to willingly carry a burden no less than did Mary, and he also said "Yes" to God's purposes.


The road ahead could not have looked clear, and need for things to go this way had to have raised questions in his mind, but Joseph saw God at work enough to say "yes, I'm going to follow this guidance, one step at a time."


For those in Japan, or in the midst of any of the inexplicable trials that wash over us in this life, it may be a good week to reflect on the role of Joseph, his responses in challenging time, and draw strength from his example – as did, most surely, Jesus himself.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about how your work is a source of God's guidance in your life at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

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