Today is Saint Joseph’s Day.
Most of the information we get about Joseph comes from the first chapters of the gospel according to Matthew. Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man who had great respect for and devotion to God’s law. Matthew’s gospel also indicates that Joseph is of the line of King David; he is the means by which Jesus is connected to Israel’s storied monarchy. Finally, the First Gospel makes a pretty strong connection between our St. Joseph, who is told in a dream to hide the Messiah in Egypt, and Joseph the son of Jacob, the dreamer who saves his people by bringing them into the land of Egypt at the end of Genesis. The Gospel of Matthew, in other words, paints Joseph as a noble and righteous protector, the first-century equivalent of a knight in shining armor.
So it’s a little surprising that the gospel reading appointed for St. Joseph’s Day comes not from Matthew’s gospel, but from the gospel according to Luke, in which Joseph is a parenthetical character at best. The reading is the one story canonical story that describes the young life of Jesus: when Jesus is twelve, he and his parents go to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. On the way home, Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not with them and they return to Jerusalem, only to find Jesus holding forth among the elders in the Temple. Mary scolds him, saying, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” It’s striking to me that in this gospel reading appointed for his feast day, Joseph neither says nor does anything of significance. The only thing we are told he does in this particular situation is worry.
When I was a kid, I had a tendency to wander. Most notably, I got lost at the State Capitol building in Connecticut and at the cliff walk in Newport, RI. None of these incidents ever seemed like a big deal to me; after all, I knew where I was the whole time. Needless to say, my parents did not feel the same way. When I finally turned up after these unaccompanied sojourns, my parents would greet me with that strange mixture of relief, anger, and concern that is typical of worried parents. As I’ve entered adulthood, I’ve come to understand that the worried emotions my parents exhibited stemmed entirely from love. I think this is why the lectionary appoints the reading from Luke’s gospel for Saint Joseph’s day. Joseph’s anxiety is typical of all worried parents who would rather die than see something bad happen to their children. This is particularly extraordinary when you consider the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ birth. In spite of the fact that Jesus was not technically his son, Joseph loved Jesus as his own. This sacrificial love is emblematic of the love that God has for each and every one of us. We put our trust in a God who worries for the creation he loves, who is concerned those who are his children by adoption. And the ultimate message of Lent is that God would rather die than see something bad happen to God’s children.