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San Giuseppe. Saint Joseph. Mary’s husband. Jesus’s supposed father. The patron saint of fathers, carpenters, laborers, of Sicily and Canada.
We Reformed folk have always been pretty allergic to saints—the named, celebrity kind.
There are a tiny handful of congregations in my denomination, the Reformed Church in America, called St. John’s, St. Paul’s, St. Remy. Thanks to our Irish-American neighbors, we are familiar with St. Patrick’s Day, only five days from now. Dutch-American antiquarians are wont to make something of St. Nicholas Day. I’ve blogged here about my “feast day,” St. Stephen’s Day.
Next week, March 19, is St. Joseph’s Day. I’m told it is a pretty big deal for Italians (where it is something like Father’s Day) especially Sicilians. So too, many Italian-Americans mark the day. But coming right after St. Patrick’s, being in Lent, and with Italian-American pride often more focused on Columbus Day (not without its critics, of course), St. Joseph’s Day doesn’t gain wide notice.
Actually, I’m not promoting St. Joseph’s Day.
I want to share some thoughts about Joseph that came to me during Advent last year, when we are more accustomed to hearing about him. And I don’t want to wait until next December to do it!
We know very little about Joseph. Only a small portion of the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel gives him much attention.
It’s become a bit cliché, but some clever preacher once quipped, “If Mary is blessed among women, then Joseph is humiliated among men.”
This is surmisal, of course. The Gospel of Matthew tells of the possibility that Mary might have been exposed to public disgrace. But nothing about Joseph.
It doesn’t take much imagination, however, to believe Joseph was the object of whispers, gossip, and the butt of jokes. “I don’t think the boy looks anything like him.” “I heard Mary was pretty chummy with those legionnaires stationed down the road.”
Or possibly the inner voices were more haunting than the sneers and slurs of neighbors. The angelic visitor in his dream evidently changed Joseph’s actions. Did it silence his doubts? Did it undo any feelings of being extraneous, an add-on, almost a sort of beard?
But if Joseph felt any humiliation, it must have been more than offset by the incredible pride and delight at what was happening around him. To what extent he understood Jesus’s future and ministry, we can only guess. I have to think, however, that he sensed that something amazing was afoot here. How to live that joy, how to share that pride in a world that only suspected the strange or the scandalous? How to convey “You may pity me. You may mock me. But you have no idea of the wonder among us.”
Righteous is about the only descriptor we get for Joseph. He was a righteous man.
Matthew’s Gospel goes out of its way to convey that Jesus had not come to flout the Jewish law or to invite moral sloppiness. That said, it quickly became apparent that Jesus’s righteousness stretched and fulfilled the law to the breaking point.
When Joseph awoke from his dream, ready to take Mary as his wife, he displayed a righteousness that was far more than obligation or scrupulosity. He responded with mercy, ingenuity, and assurance. Joseph lived a righteousness that did not avoid the messy or controversial. This, we are being schooled, is true righteousness, reframed around welcome and acceptance.
A New Patron Saint
All of this, and the Holy Spirit, were swirling in me during a sermon last December when I had a discovery. Joseph isn’t only the patron saint of fathers, carpenters, or Sicilians. He is the patron saint of parents of LGBTQ people!
These parents, like Joseph, frequently feel pity or ridicule, sometimes blame, from neighbors. Yet like Joseph, these parents often know the wonder, the joy, the amazing treasure that their children are, but too few can appreciate.
No one plans for their child to be the Messiah of a virgin birth or to be LGBTQ. But by the grace of God—and maybe even an angel visit—parents in such situations often respond with great love. They display a Joseph-like righteousness, righteousness that is more about grace than judgment, loyalty rather than shame, creativity over certainty.
A mother of a gay son shared how when she would tell others that her son is gay, people usually responded with whispered words like, “Oh, I’m so sorry…That must be disappointing, a real burden for you… I’d heard some talk, but I didn’t want to bring it up.”
Then one day she told a person who replied, “Wow, that’s wonderful. You must be so proud!”
Joseph, I think, would understand.