Jesus: The Son of Joseph
4. Joseph is really quite forgettable, the ultimate “Average Joe.”
3. But Joseph was also faithful.
2. What Matthew does want us to remember is that the Son of Joseph is also Joseph’s Savior.
1. For in God’s eyes, no one is forgettable.
Joseph’s Son Came to Save His Average, Forgettable People from Their Sins.
And Jacob [was] the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. (Mt 1:16)
During the 2008 presidential election, fame fell on Joseph Wurzelbacher, or, as he became known, “Joe the Plumber,” as a symbol of the common, ordinary citizen. He would be referenced in debates and stump speeches by the candidates who tried to appeal to the “average Joe.” For a brief moment, this plumber from Ohio became a household name . . . only to slip back into obscurity after the election.
Every family tree has members who have been forgotten over time. Their existence seems confined to census data. There are no statues or memorials commemorating their accomplishments. After the third and fourth generations, their memory is gone. It’s only when someone begins the process of constructing the family tree that their names and places in the family history are recalled. But their lives are remembered by little more than the dash between two dates. For those who research their family genealogies, their computer files are mostly pages of names and descendants, not unlike what Matthew has constructed for us in introducing Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham.
One of the last names in that family tree is Joseph. While Mary is a key figure in the life and ministry of Jesus, Joseph is barely remembered. He is the ultimate “Average Joe,” whose stature pales in comparison to his betrothed. The evangelist Mark does not refer to him at all. Outside of the birth accounts in Matthew and Luke, the only recorded mention of Joseph is when he and Mary took twelve-year-old Jesus to Jerusalem for Passover. When Jesus went missing, it is not Joseph who rebukes him, but Mary. Then it was Joseph who went missing, never to be seen again, like a character written out of a television series. Beyond age 12, Jesus will regularly interact with his mother and brothers, but Joseph is never present.
Jesus was called the Son of David fifteen times throughout the Gospels. Blind men would cry out to him, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David” (Mt 20:30). The Roman centurion who oversaw the crucifixion and saw how Jesus died called him the Son of God. In fact, nearly thirty times, Jews and Gentiles, clean and unclean, and even demons would call Jesus the Son of God. And the messianic title the Son of Man—Jesus’ own preferred designation for himself—is used nearly eighty times. But Jesus is only referred to as Joseph’s son or the carpenter’s son four times in the Gospels. When Luke references Joseph in his genealogy, he refers to Jesus as “the son (as was supposed) of Joseph” (Lk 3:23).
Joseph is like one in so many other family trees, the relative who is not exactly a relative and little more than a footnote scribbled off to the side in someone’s tattered family Bible. Joseph is that extra figure in nativity sets who is not a shepherd but not a Wise Man. He simply balances out the scene with the beloved Mary on one side and the extra figure opposite her. How many “Madonna and Child” paintings have you seen . . . and how many of Joseph with Jesus? To many, Joseph is quite forgettable.
However, Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus is different from that traditional scene. It contains no shepherds and only one angel. There is no innkeeper, no stable, no manger. There’s no arduous journey to Bethlehem. Matthew focuses on the events leading to the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective. During Joseph and Mary’s day, the period of betrothal usually lasted about a year. This was a formal engagement period that could only be broken by divorce or death. But during this period, there would be no physical intimacy. That would wait until the actual nuptial ceremony.
When Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, and knowing that he is not the father, he is only left to conclude that Mary has committed adultery. Now it would have been within his right by Old Testament law to have her put to death for her sin. But Matthew notes that Joseph was a righteous man, so while he didn’t wish to shame himself publicly, he did not wish such punishment on Mary either. Instead, he decided to have the marriage dissolved quietly on account of her sin and then go his own way. Joseph’s plan shows us why God in his infinite wisdom also chose Joseph to raise his Son, Jesus: Joseph is a compassionate man who seeks to do the Lord’s will. Rather than lashing out at Mary in anger and vengeance, Joseph sought to show her mercy and compassion, while still being faithful to God and turning away from sin.
But the angel appeared to Joseph and told him that this child in Mary was not the result of sin, but of God’s grace. The angel then told Joseph that he was to name the child Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. This had been no ordinary conception. Likewise, he would be no ordinary child. He would be given the name Jesus not as some testimony about the character of God, as was the case with so many Hebrew names, but actually as God’s action, his fulfillment of his promise to send the Messiah. This name was not to symbolize the idea that Yahweh saves his people like at the Red Sea or in bringing them back from exile. Rather, this child would be the ultimate embodiment of God’s plan of salvation, saving them from more than just oppression and suffering. He had come to be the Savior from sin. He was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. He was the one who would rescue and redeem God’s people from death. No ordinary child! Unlike any child ever born, because he came to save his people, even Joseph and Mary.
No words from Joseph. He simply did what the angel commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife and cared for her. And when she gave birth to a son, Joseph called him Jesus. It sure wasn’t the kind of thing Joseph ever expected to hear. But God had a plan. And the angel revealed that perfect plan of salvation to Joseph, and he believed.
Matthew doesn’t tell us how Joseph felt about it all. He doesn’t write about what Joseph thought. We are not told how he tried to add it all up or figure it all out. Matthew simply states that Joseph did exactly what the angel told him to do. He took Mary home as his wife, and when the child was born, he named him Jesus, just as the angel had directed with the promise that this child would save his people from their sins.
The angel of the Lord would appear to Joseph twice more. First, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him to take his family to Egypt to protect his adopted son from the murderous King Herod. Then, after Herod’s death, Joseph was told by an angel, again in a dream, to return to Israel, and he once again settled in Nazareth. No objections. No debate. No recorded words at all. Joseph simply did what was commanded of him. But all this we do remember about Joseph.
Many of you have felt like Joseph. You’ve felt forgotten by people or that you didn’t get the recognition you deserved. You don’t want to be just an “Average Joe.” You want to be remembered. You want to be someone who leaves a mark on society. But the marks we ultimately leave on those around us are the stain of sin. The only hope we have is not that we will be remembered by the people around us, but that God has remembered us in his infinite mercy . . . so that he does not remember our sins. We can find solace in knowing that God put his name on us in the waters of Holy Baptism and sealed us with the Holy Spirit as the deposit and guarantee of God’s promise to remember us in his kingdom.
Jesus’ earthly father, Average Joseph, held something in common with all the other names in the family tree, even those much more famous and renowned. Joseph was a sinner who needed a Savior. When he gave the child the name Jesus, it was because he, too, needed someone who would save him from his own sins. God would then use this Average Joseph to protect Jesus from Herod’s soldiers, who ran their spears through the baby boys around Bethlehem. But one day, Joseph’s adopted Son would allow himself to be run through by the thorns, the nails, and the spear. And the Son of Joseph did it for his earthly father and for all who are part of his family by faith.
Joseph’s Son Came to Save His Average, Forgettable People from Their Sins.
Joseph serves as a silent but faithful witness to the Church of ages hence. May God strengthen us that we may be comforted in knowing that our God not only remembers us but that he also sent Jesus to save us from our sins.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.