The Christian Church sets aside March 19th as the annual Feast Day of St. Joseph, the “Guardian” of Jesus. “Guardian,” maybe . . . but he was so much more than that twenty first-century term implies!
What do we know about Joseph? According to Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph, “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ,” (Matt. 1:16) is the direct descendant of Abraham and David, through whose line would come the promised Messiah. Matthew notes: ”Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.” (Matt 1:17)
If for no other reason than being in this royal line, Joseph would be highly respected. However, we should also take note of the character of this man: when presented with the “damaged goods” of a pregnant fiancée, Joseph did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace, but “had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matt 1:19) When an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, Joseph listened and obeyed God, kept Mary as his wife, and raised Jesus as his own.
Through our Western, twenty first-century eyes, we miss an important element in this narrative: it was Joseph who publicly “gave him the name Jesus.” (Matt 1:25) In the culture of Joseph’s time, this was crucial. The man who named the child acknowledged the child to be his, and accepted responsibility for the child. By his doing this, Joseph legitimized both Jesus and Mary. The same situation was presented to Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptizer. After asking Elizabeth to name their child, protocol was kept by asking the father, Zechariah, who had been struck mute. ”He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.” (Luke 1:63-64)
In this present age of broken families, St. Joseph stands out as a wonderfully positive role model for all those raising children that are not “biologically” their own, whether from previous marriage or adoption. As the man who gave Jesus His name, raised Him, protected Him, provided for Him, taught Him a trade, and loved Him as his very own, Joseph was much, much more than a “guardian;” he was the greatest step-father in history!