Joseph, the Foster Father of Christ

by Peter Klapes


Most of what is known of Joseph, the foster father of Christ, emanates from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, as well as other apocryphal texts. In both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, Joseph’s filial line is traced back to King David, with Matthew tracing the royal line from Solomon, and Luke tracing it from Nathan, a son of David.

Despite his royal lineage, Joseph was a working-class man, known as a tekton, which in Hebrew, means carpenter. Joseph is often portrayed as a compassionate man, who bore great affection for his wife and foster son. It is more commonly accepted that the marriage of Joseph and Mary took place after the Incarnation, for when Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, knowing that an accusation of adultery would have had her publically stoned to death, he sent her away in private. It was not until an angel appeared to Joseph in his sleep, telling him “ ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’” (Matthew 1:20).

           

After a brief period, the couple began their journey to Bethlehem, where Mary would give birth to Jesus. Subsequently, an angel appeared to Joseph in his sleep, commanding him to take his wife and child to Egypt, to “Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Matthew 2:13). At the presentation, Luke writes that “the child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about [Jesus]” (Luke 2:33).

           

Joseph’s time at Nazareth seemed to be rather uneventful. Joseph continued to support himself and his family as a hardworking carpenter and pious Jew. It is only when Jesus was twelve years old, that Joseph is mentioned, in his anxious quest for his son: “…they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him. Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions…” (Luke 2:44-46).

           

Although Jesus was often referred to as “the son of Joseph,” it is believed that Joseph had died prior to Jesus’s public ministry, especially corroborated by the fact that Jesus called on John to care for His mother following His death. According to an apocryphal account of Joseph’s life, Joseph died at the age of 111, on July 20, A.D. 18 or 19, and was buried in the Valley of Josaphat.

           

Today, Joseph is venerated as the nutritor Domini, the educator and guardian of the Lord. Most recently, the theological study of Joseph has begun to flourish.  The feast of Saint Joseph is celebrated on March 19th in the much of the Western Christian community, and is celebrated on the First Sunday after the Nativity in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Since 1955, May 1 has been celebrated as the feast of “Saint Joseph the Worker,” a tradition established by Pope Pius XII. Many churches, cities, and places have been named in honor of Saint Joseph. San Jose stands as the most commonly named place in the world, and Joseph is considered a patron saint of various Asian, Meso-American, and European countries. He is also the namesake of St. Joseph’s Chapel in the basement of Gonzaga.

 

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