Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reflection for Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

One of the greatest disservices we can do to St. Joseph is to picture him as an old man. In our mental images of faith, I feel like crossover happens frequently, and all the male father figures blend together. All men in the Bible visually morph into one grey-haired, robed, wise old man who sits majestically on a throne of some sort. The image below of St. Joseph gets this idea across.

Maybe even sometimes, we see him daintily holding a small hammer or some strange measuring tool, since we know he was a carpenter.

I don’t mean to disrespect or deny the value of any religious art, but I think these examples, and our mental image, portray Joseph in a slightly inaccurate light.

Imagine for a moment, this Joseph:

Carpenters in the first century not only worked with wood, but with stone as well. Joseph probably had to work with and maneuver huge pieces of these materials. This was not the work of some old geezer. He would have been muscular and strong. He would also probably be a filthy individual who sweated in the hot Galilean sun, and was covered in sawdust and grime by the day’s end. Surely he would have calloused hands, and plenty of scars, for he had been practicing this trade all his life. If tradition/historical reference tells us that Mary could have been as young as 14 or 15 at the time of the Nativity, is it possible that Joseph was maybe 18, 19, or 20? The age of a college freshman or sophomore? 

This same young man would have known his Torah and his Jewish town, and would have known the total shame and social rejection that he could expect if he decided to accept an unexpectedly pregnant Mary into his home.  

This same man would have had to protect and care for Mary on their long trips to Bethlehem and Egypt, insuring the safety and survival of both his wife and their newborn on the dangerous open road. 

All the while, we hear not a word from him. All throughout Scripture, we hear not one recorded word from the man who is now known as the patron of the Universal Church. Personally, I find it hard to connect with the ambiguous old grey man we so commonly see. I connect with this real Joseph. I want to talk to this vibrant, strong, dedicated Joseph, and learn from him. I want him to teach me the amazing virtue and dedication he demonstrates in this reading. I want to know what he was thinking during the craziness of this reading, and what amazing things he learned from his own son in the aftermath of it.  

I offer all these ideas/images merely because Joseph’s story, like the other main players in the Nativity story, is so rich and powerful, but so easily forgotten amidst the repetition and frequency with which we hear it. The Nativity Story asks for more.  We’re called to latch onto this amazing story that is written in our hearts, and dive into the deeper message waiting for us in it. Joseph is only one part of it. There are many others within the Nativity Story with their own tale, waiting for us to enter in and discover them.  Then, hopefully, as Jesus arrives in heart and mind, we see him with clearer eyes, and love Him all the more for the beauty that His story weaves into our own.

Mike Lally is a member of the class of 2015.

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