Next up was Joseph. First off was the observation that his hometown was Bethlehem, the ancestral home of David. Bethlehem was a bit larger than Nazareth and the name means house of bread. Just as Nazareth was near a larger city, Bethlehem was near Jerusalem and they most likely provided much of the bread for the city.
Joseph is a bit of an enigma to us, because he himself says not one word in the bible. So looking at him involves a certain amount of conjecture. He is described as a tekton, which is usually translated as carpenter. However, the term can be used to describe a number of jobs that we usually think of as separate. He could have built doors and window frames, made tools or even been a stone mason. I had always thought of him as making furniture, but perhaps he was a man of many talents. We assume he was the quiet type, simply because most of those who work in those professions are quiet.
Then he got into the various traditions regarding Joseph’s age, which is not given. I never realized that Catholics often picture him as quite old, traditionally 93! Protestants usually picture him as only a few years older than Mary. The author pegs that as possibly as young as 15, though I think that is based on the assumption that Mary might have been no more than 13, which I think is in turn based on modern average ages of menarche. This book could have used a more extensive list of resources in my opinion! Nothing is listed for this chapter. In any event, he could have been nearly any age between those extremes, depending on any number of circumstances.
We are told that Joseph was a righteous man and I appreciated the author’s observation that this apparently referred to his being merciful, since if he were more interested in justice, he would most likely have had Mary stoned instead of trying to take care of the problem quietly. The author places Joseph in Bethlehem, which is about a 3 mile walk to where Mary visited her Aunt Elizabeth. We presumed he visited her there, only to hear her story of being pregnant by the Holy Spirit, after a visit by an angel.
Now all the men present were talking about how they would feel hurt and angry at that point, though the biblical account is pretty straightforward, not explicit about any emotional response. One can easily imagine him fuming about finding his fiancee pregnant, knowing it was not by him. I can just see him saying something like, and what’s up with this crazy story about an angel? Where did she come up with that? Can’t she just tell the truth?
But in the end, after much soul searching, Joseph decided to put her away quietly, which showed him to be merciful. Of course, then he is visited by an angel in a dream, much as his ancestor and namesake was directed by dreams. It’s interesting that he did not hesitate to follow the directions given in the dream. If we have dreams that seem to offer some guidance regarding important decisions, we are encouraged to check them against scripture and many wise advisors. Joseph was as quick to obey as Mary herself had been.
Looking at Joseph, we find one of those turned around concepts that Jesus was fond of bringing up in parables. If Joseph is in a sense God’s definition of greatness, then greatness involves being merciful, obedient and humble. We have to remember that Joseph was chosen, just as Mary was. God wanted this kind of man to raise His son. That’s pretty mind-blowing!