He was just another man like the rest of us all. An ordinary man, happy with his surroundings and supportive to his family with hard work. Apparently there was nothing to distinguish him from his peers. He lived a simple and ordinary life and when he completed his years passed away peacefully without anybody noticing. Beyond his immediate family, perhaps nobody really knew him the way we know of him now. By all means he was just another man. Then what makes him special among all other men? What makes us to respect this man in an unparalleled way?
This man was not just another man, but a just man. Yes, it is about Joseph the Just. Of all the titles we give Joseph, this one stands apart because it represents the most beautiful trait in Joseph. How can we call a man just? Or what is the yardstick we use to measure one’s adherence to justice? You will find any number of explanations, but all of them converge to one single point. Doing justice means doing the will of God. Let us look at some people whom the Bible describes as just or righteous. ‘Job was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil’ (Job 1:1). ‘Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation: Noah walked with God (Gen 6:9). Lot was the only righteous and blameless man God could see in Sodom. ‘By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous… (Heb 11:4). ‘Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’ ( Rom 4:3)
Thus we see that Joseph was not the only righteous person mentioned in the Bible.There are many others whom the God certified as just or righteous. Then what makes him different from others? It is his silence! We cannot find another person who lived a whole life of silence. In fact the Bible does not record even a single word uttered by Joseph. This is in stark contrast to other Bible figures. We do not see Joseph praying loudly, we do not see Joseph talking; all that we know about Joseph is that he heard the word of God in silence and obeyed it in silence. When the angel told him that Mary’s child is from the Holy Spirit he believed it. When the angel told him that the child should be named Jesus he believed it. In a dream It is easy to believe everything. But to follow the instructions received in a dream needs faith and that too in abundant measure. Joseph was rich in faith, trust, obedience, love and charity. ‘When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus’ (Mt 1:24-25).
Not long before another person called Zechariah also received a message from heaven. But unlike Joseph, it was not in a dream. Zechariah was offering incense at the sanctuary of the Lord in the temple when an angel appeared to him and revealed the plan of God about him and Elizabeth. The angel consoled a visibly terrified Zechariah and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John’ (Lk 1:13). What joyful news should have been this for him, for finally they are going to be blessed with a son in their twilight years! But instead of rejoicing, Zechariah fell into doubt. How is this going to happen? He wanted an answer that was comprehensible to his human intelligence. We should remember here that Zechariah was a priest. He knew at what age Abraham was given a son. He knew how Elkanah and Hanna got Samuel. But he could not relate their experiences to what was going to happen in his own life!
Now, Joseph’s dilemma was much worse than Zechariah’s. Because unlike Zechariah, Joseph saw the angel in a dream only. Second,the news that the angel brought to Zechariah was truly one of joy though incredible to the human mind. On the other hand,the message delivered to Joseph was confusing, because he was instructed to accept a pregnant woman as his wife. But he never asked how it was possible for a woman to conceive without the help of a man. He knew,everything was possible for God. He accepted Mary as wife. When a priest doubted the word of God, a layman believed it blindly. When the priest was punished with a forced silence of a few months for his disbelief, Joseph went into a kind of self imposed silence for the rest of his life. But in that silence he started getting more and more messages from the Lord.
We call Mary the Ark of the Covenant. In the Old Testament we read about the fear with which Israelites approached the Ark of the Covenant. When they, under the leadership of David, took the Ark from Kiriathjearim in Judea, something untoward happened on their way. The Ark was in a new cart driven by Uzzah and Ahio. ‘When they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to hold the Ark, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, He struck him down because he put out his hand to the Ark; and he died there before God (1 Chr. 13:9-10). A layman was not supposed to touch the Ark of the Covenant. Now read from the gospel: ”…. he took her as wife, but had no marital relation with her until she had borne a son…..’ ( Mt 1:24-25). Joseph considered himself unworthy to touch the new Ark of the Covenant. Such was his humility.
We are living in a generation where the line between what is holy and what is profane is getting obscured with every passing day. We as Christians, have a special duty towards what is holy. Be it the Church, Bible, Sacraments or Sacramentals, the prudence of Joseph should guide us in observing holy things in its holiness. ‘ For they will be made holy who observe holy things in holiness’ (Wis 6:10). Jesus was holy and his mother was immaculate. But to make their family a holy family, Joseph also needed to be holy. In the case of Jesus, he is the only son of God and holiness is his natural trait. For Mary this virtue was bestowed at the time of immaculate conception. But for Joseph, he had to strive hard, that too his whole life to attain holiness and to retain it. We can imagine the heavy price he paid for it.
Today we call Joseph by many titles like Pillar of families, Patron of workers, Hope of the sick, Patron of the dying and Protector of the Holy Church. But as for me, the most apt title is JOSEPH MOST JUST.
Let us seek the intercession of St Joseph to discern the messages God sent us. We need not be priests to know it. What Zechariah the priest could not do with human reasoning, Joseph the layman could accomplish with blind faith and an unfailing trust in providence. When the angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him to go to Egypt, Joseph left for Egypt the very same night. After some time, the angel of the Lord appeared to him again and instructed him to return to the land of Israel. Again Joseph obeyed it without any demur. When their destination was changed midway and they were told to go to Galilee instead of Judea, Joseph obeyed that too. Now pause for a moment and think. Is it possible for us to accept every message from God without questioning?
Declaring a year dedicated to St Joseph was long overdue. Now the Church has done it and the year of St Joseph comes with indulgences attached to it. These days call for a renewed interest in the life of Joseph. We need his intercession to transform our families into holy families. We need his help to learn how to be a good parent, a good spouse, and a good worker. Joseph was a mystery, because the mysteries entrusted to him by God remained mysteries till the moment he left this world. And his death we call a happy death for it is written: ‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God ( Wis 3:1).
In these days of mounting uncertainties, a happy death is one thing that we should pray for. Let us seek the intercession of St Joseph, patron of the dying, for ourselves as well as for others who are afraid to face the ultimate reality called death.