Today I was greatly honored to speak at a St. Joseph's Table celebration where people gather to honor the name and patronage of Saint Joseph (especially over Sicili, where this tradition originated) by sharing a meal together and offering alms to the poor. I was asked to prepare a short talk on the saint, so I poured over some scholarly, theological, and devotional texts in order to offer the best that I could on the man whom I am proud to name one of my closest patrons.
Joseph, of the House and Family of David
Little is known about Joseph from Scripture. He is named "a righteous man", living according to the law of God. He is of the tribe of Judah, of the "House and family of David," which means that he stands within the secret and sacred bloodline from King David on down to Jesus. The last Davidic heir who sat on the throne had his sons killed and his eyes blotted out, then was carried off to slavery, never to be heard from again. The last thing he saw was the end of the Davidic lineage.
However, as God is one to do, He preserved a remnant, a worthy lineage that continued on in the humility of permanent de-thronement. They would be born, raise families, work jobs, knowing all the while they were supposed to be kings. But none would ever rule.
While the Tribe of Judah suffered exile as punishment for their sins of idolatry, God still was faithful, preserving Jesse's family tree that, though just a stump now, would take root and blossom again. The great Davidic heir would be the Messiah, the Anointed One of the Tribe of Judah, the Holy One of God, the Deliverer.
Joseph was born of the House of David and so his hometown was Bethlehem, which is the "City of David", the ancestral lands of Jesse. However, just like many poor, working class people, Joseph was probably living up North in that hick-town of Nazareth in Galilee just to make ends meet. And that is where the story begins with this righteous man.
So we know he was righteous, he was Davidic, and he was a tekton, which in Greek can be translated as carpender, mechanic, or architect. Carpendar stuck.
He was also betrothed to a young woman, a virgin, whose name was Mary of Nazareth daughter of St. Anne and St. Joakim. We do not know his age at the time. Some say he was an old widower with some kids of his own (like James, called "the brother of the Lord"). Others hold he was just a little older than Mary, and a chaste virgin like herself. You will find both depictions throughout art history.
He was there for Jesus' circumcision ("The Presentation in the Temple" if you are following along through the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary), and for Jesus' Bar Mitzvah, ("Finding Jesus in the Temple"), when he was lost in Jerusalem, pwning the scholars and doctors. And that Jesus was obedient to him and Mary after that, growing in wisdom and stature at home.
He is never mentioned after that, leading everyone to believe that he died before Jesus' public ministry began. This is why he is the patron saint of a good death, dying in the loving arms of our Lord and our Lady. Thus, pray to him if you want to die likewise!
On the surface, everything was normal about this young Jewish couple. But underneath it all, the weight of the whole world rested on their shoulders, as they raised the Savior of the world.
Holiness and Humility
Not a lot is said about him, and that says a lot.
It is fitting because humility is the measure of a man's true greatness. His royalty, his hidden lineage, it was not meant for him to rule. He had to watch in meekness as Herod, a tyrant Edomite in bed with the Romans, claimed the title "King of the Jews".
His lineage was not his own, but to be preserved for another, for the Holy One of God, who would be descended from the House of David according to the flesh, but would be God's own Son, the firstfruits of a truly new world.
Joseph, and all those who went before him, knew they were not meant to sit atop thrones, but to carve wood and lay brick. There would be Another, a Son that would rise later, the One who is destined to rule all nations, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Divine Lover of Hosea, the Prophet like unto Moses, the priest-king in the Order of Melchizadek, the King of kings and the Lord of all lords.
This One, and not him, would rule the House of David.
So Joseph hammered, carved, built, and labored under the hidden poverty of an ordinary, working class man so that one day his foster Son would reclaim throne and title, not for His own vainglory, but to save His people from their sins.
Saint Joseph, terror of demons, protector of virgins, pray for us!