The Powerful Influence of Joseph in the Mission of his Son Jesus
by Kevin Burke, LSW and Theresa Burke, Ph.D. –
This Lenten season, the Church will once again honor Saint Joseph on his feast day, March 20 (moved from March 19 due to falling on a Lenten Sunday). Like the humble adoptive father of Jesus, the day is often passed-over (pun intended), lost amid the dramatic events in the life of Jesus leading up to Holy Week and Easter Sunday.
Yet, by taking a closer look at Joseph, you will learn that this humble craftsman was himself a king who had an indispensable role in nurturing and shaping the vocation of his son, Jesus.
Many years before the death and resurrection of Jesus, Joseph was powerfully modeling for his son courage, servant leadership and humble obedience to the will of his Heavenly Father. As we shall see, these qualities were later beautifully manifested in some of the key moments in the public life of Jesus, especially the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
The genealogy that opens the Gospel of Matthew, rightly feared by many a lector, has some essential information about Joseph. Matthew reveals that Joseph was a member of the Royal Family of David, with a rightful claim to the Kingship of Israel. Luke’s Gospel confirms this, reporting that Joseph returned to Bethlehem, the City of David, for the census just prior to the birth of Jesus, as “he belonged to the house and line of David.” (Luke 2:4)
The Bible is not the only proof of Joseph’s royal lineage.
Bishop of Caesarea Eusebius (263—339) in his Church History writes of a persecution of the relatives of Joseph and Jesus after the Resurrection during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian “on the grounds that they were of the lineage of David.”
So why did Joseph keep his royal lineage hidden?
Zedekiah was the last king of Judah when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by Babylon in 586 BC, and the Jewish people carried into exile. While Zedekiah’s sons were murdered and the king blinded, other members of the royal family survived. Seventy years later, King Cyrus declared that all Jewish exiles were free to return to Jerusalem and re-establish their worship in the Temple. The survivors of the royal family of David kept a low profile as successive conquerors of the Holy Land, Greek and Roman, would have seen any home-grown Davidic King as a threat to the power of their self-appointed puppet kings.
The Heart of Joseph…the Heart of Christ
Jesus spoke openly about his special relationship with his “Heavenly Father,” and how all His words and actions perfectly reflected the will of the Father. But can we also consider that God in his providence chose a man as the adoptive father of Jesus who would complement this special relationship of Jesus with his Heavenly Father?
As with any royal family (think of the Royal House of Windsor in the United Kingdom), a son in line for the throne must wait until the death of the reigning monarch before he assumes his full authority as king. It seems that God in his providence honored this tradition. Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God and his eventual manifestation as Son of David and Son of God.
But the influence of Joseph did not end with his death. We see the heart of Joseph reflected in Jesus’s mission, especially in the great events commemorated during Holy Week.
In the final days of his earthly ministry, at the Holy Thursday Passover feast, Jesus modeled for his apostles a striking example of servant leadership in his Kingdom:
…Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13: 4-5)
Jesus’s outer clothing represent his priestly and royal authority, but here he acts as a humble servant, manifesting the humility first modeled by Joseph.
Joseph kept hidden his own claims as direct descendant of the royal family of David in humble service to his family. He sacrificed his experience of the blessings and joy of marital relations with his beloved wife Mary out of devotion and fidelity to the vocation God entrusted to him.
Joseph, by assent to this heavenly vocation, was saying to Jesus and Mary: “This is my body, my life, given for you.” Mary expressed this sentiment even more profoundly in her vocation to accept Jesus, conceived in the power of the Holy Spirit, in her blessed womb.
When Jesus later shared these powerful words at the institution of the Blessed Eucharist, “This is my body, which is given for you,” Joseph and Mary must have been close to his heart.
Later, on Holy Thursday, Jesus and His apostles gathered in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the first hours of Good Friday, before the light of dawn, Jesus experienced the human feelings of anxiety and terror in anticipation of His impending passion and death on the cross.
Years earlier, when Jesus was a newborn, Joseph likely experienced some of his own anxiety and doubt when an angel of the Lord warned that “Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13) Keep in mind, Herod did not hesitate to kill members of his own family, including three of his sons and one of his favorite wives when he saw them as a threat to his kingship.
Joseph was obedient to heaven’s warning. He overcame his fear, acting with courage and conviction. Joseph protected his family and, because he belonged to the house and line of David, risked his own life as they embarked on their journey of exile into Egypt. Many years later, Jesus must have drawn upon both the courage and strength of His adoptive father Joseph and the eternal love of His Heavenly Father as He submitted to the Father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane and endured His painful journey to Calvary.
The Silent Servant King
While there are no spoken words of Joseph’s recorded in the New Testament, there is one Gospel account where we can be sure he spoke, and the powerful word he shared.
When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, 40 days after His birth, Joseph as legal father would have proclaimed the name of his son. Joseph announced not only the name of his son, but in His name, His mission. The name Joseph gave his son is Jesus – in Hebrew, Joshua – which means The Lord Saves.
This Lenten season, ask Saint Joseph to help you draw closer to the Sacred Heart of his son Jesus, a Heart that so beautifully reflects the spirit of Joseph, His beloved adoptive father, the humble servant king of Israel.
Theresa Karminski Burke, Ph.D., started one of the first therapeutic support groups for post-abortive women in 1986 after founding The Center for Post Abortion Healing.
Kevin Burke is a licensed social worker and a Pastoral Associate of Priests for Life. Together the two co-founded Rachel’s Vineyard, a safe place to renew, rebuild and redeem hearts broken by abortion. Weekend retreats offer you a supportive, confidential and non-judgmental environment where women and men can express, release and reconcile painful post-abortive emotions to begin the process of restoration, renewal and healing. Rachel’s Vineyard is a ministry of Priests for Life.