Fact and Fiction
Everything we know about St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus comes from the Bible, and mentions of him are underwhelming. The 13 New Testament books written by Paul (the epistles) make no reference to him at all, nor does the Gospel of Mark, the first of the Gospels. Joseph first appears in the Bible in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, one of which (Matthew) traces Joseph's lineage back to King David.
To add to the problem of not knowing enough about Joseph, some apocryphal writings—such as the second-century Protevangelium of James and the fourth-century History of Joseph the Carpenter—muddy the historical waters further, presenting him as a widower with children when he met Mary and claiming that he lived to the age of 111. These claims, however, are spurious and are not accepted by the church.
Marriage to Mary
After marrying Mary, Joseph found that she was already pregnant, and being "a just man and unwilling to put her to shame" (Matt. 1:19), he decided to divorce her quietly, knowing that if he did so publicly, she could be stoned to death. An angel, however, came to Joseph and told him that the child Mary carried was the son of God and was conceived by the Holy Spirit, so Joseph kept Mary as his wife.
After Jesus's birth in Bethlehem, an angel came to Joseph again, this time to warn him and Mary about King Herod of Judaea and the violence he would bring down upon the child. Joseph then fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and the angel appeared again, telling Joseph that Herod had died and instructing him to return to the Holy Land.
Avoiding Bethlehem and possible actions by Herod's successor, Joseph, Mary and Jesus settled in Nazareth, in Galilee. The Gospels describe Joseph as a "tekton," which traditionally has meant "carpenter," and it is assumed that Joseph taught his craft to Jesus in Nazareth. At this point, however, Joseph is never mentioned again by name in the Bible—although the story of Jesus in the temple includes a reference to "both his parents."
Death and Sainthood
The circumstances of Joseph's death are not known, but it is likely that he died before Jesus's ministry began, and it is implied that he was dead before the Crucifixion (John 19:26-27). Already a patron saint of Mexico, Canada and Belgium, in 1870, Joseph was declared patron of the universal church by Pope Pius IX, and in 1955 Pope Pius XII established May 1 as the "Feast of St. Joseph the Worker" to counter the Communists' May Day, however we also celebrate Saint Joseph the spouse of Mary on March 19th.
It is interesting to note here that for not knowing a great deal about St. Joseph the church honors him with two specific days! Which leads me to this thought? Do we need to know every detail about the spouse of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus?
I say no, we shouldn’t. I think that Matthew and Luke may have taken a peek at Mark’s gospel and said, “Hey, Mark didn’t mention Joseph,” and proceeded to give us exactly what we needed to know. That Joseph was a man that you could count on!
Joseph was an older man who had accumulated life experiences and whose character was already well formed. He knew who he was, what his limits were and he is described as a righteous man.
St. Joseph was a kind, patient, humble, and righteous man and that’s what Matthew and Mark wanted us to see. Yes, Joseph was of the house of David, an honor of course, but a title doesn't make you a righteous man!
I think the church calendar should consider a third day for us to recognize St. Joseph, called St Joseph the Forgiver. Joseph was a man of strong conviction who lived out his beliefs in his actions. He was described in the Bible as a righteous man. Even when personally wronged, he forgave and had the quality of being sensitive to someone else's shame. He responded to God in obedience and he practiced self-control. Joseph did not put a perceived injustice in front of his responsibilities as a man of God. He forgave, he trusted, and he answered God’s call to be the earthly Father of Jesus. Joseph is a wonderful biblical example of integrity and godly character.
God honored Joseph's integrity by entrusting him with a great responsibility. It is not easy to entrust your children to someone else. Imagine God looking down to choose a man to raise his own son? Joseph had God's trust. Mercy always triumphs. Joseph could have acted severely toward Mary's apparent indiscretion, but he chose to offer love and mercy, even when he thought he had been wronged. Walking in obedience to God may result in humiliation and disgrace before men. When we obey God, even (or especially) in the face of adversity and shame, we are allowing God to lead and guide us.
Author: Deacon Darwin Kruse