by Sr. Esme da Cunha
Tak, tak, tak … the nails were hammered into place. “This chair must be done before evening” mused Joseph, as he put the finishing touches to the set of chairs ordered by Gamaliel for the Temple. They will look so new and shiny on the feast of Passover!
The Passover! So many pilgrims are already streaming in from all around. What will Jerusalem be like on the actual day? Joseph had come in early because of all the work that is sure to be found here before the great feasts.
But Nazareth is different. It is a smaller town after all. People still have time for each other. That girl, Mary! Joseph could not wipe out her memory. He had followed her that day, right up to the Synagogue. But he did not have the courage to speak to her. He was shy and quiet, that Joseph. And she was so lively, so full of life … but an altogether different kind of liveliness. He would almost say, full of grace! A sense of the divine seemed to envelope her. She inspired devotion. All of her spoke of God. The priest had suggested her for marriage. He would readily consent and live his days to maintain and protect her. She had no parents it seemed, They may have died many years ago. He wanted, with all his heart, to have a word with her before answering the priest.
The engagement was now over. Everything went on well. Those eyes! He saw face to face on that engagement day. Her eyes were so filled with trust, a holy, pure, lovely gaze that penetrated his heart. Joseph loved Mary and she was so sweet and docile. Then, suddenly, without a word to him, she disappeared. The priest told him she had gone to see an old relative. No idea when she would return. She said something about her needing some help – an elderly couple, living all by themselves, somewhere near Jerusalem. Joseph wondered with whom she made that journey. Anyway, she will return. She surely will.
And return she did! What was his shock, when just as suddenly as she had left, Mary returned … three months later. As soon as he saw her, his heart froze. What had happened? They had never met in private, though they were already as good as married. Now here she was, visibly with child. She ran to meet him, but stopped half-way when she saw his dismayed and worried look. She didn’t blame him, nor did she try to explain. She just ran indoors.
What was he to make of all this? He did not doubt her faithfulness and innocence. But the evidence? How did all this happen? He was crying by now – he couldn’t go home, he couldn’t face her. That night he tried to sleep in the fields, his soul tormented with a thousand reasons – but nothing made sense. That night he dreamed – a nightmare, Mary being pursued by the rabble who wanted to stone her to death. He woke with a start. No, not that! Suddenly he felt an inner peace – a revelation from heaven. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife… Joseph listened with all his heart at this heavenly assurance. It was almost morning when Joseph ran home. The next day he sought out Mary. She did not need to explain things anymore. They embraced – he told her what he was told in a dream. He asked her where she had been all this time. She told him about Elizabeth and the child of her old age.
Then, with a bit of hesitation and reticence, she also spoke about the angel Gabriel, all that he told her about the Child to be born, her ‘yes’ to God – and the beginning of her pregnancy. Joseph put all the pieces together – Elizabeth, the angel Gabriel, Mary’s consent to the Will of God, his own dream. The picture was clear. God had a special mission for him – to take care of the Child and its Mother! Henceforth they would face life together, no matter what people might say of them. He would be at her side to love and protect her all the days of her life. He would fend for her Child, through thick and thin. He would nurture Him as if He was his own son.
Mary and Joseph lived on happily, until almost the end of her nine months. Then came the unexpected summons of the census. Unhesitatingly Mary wanted to go along with Joseph, even though she was aware of the risks and the discomfort of the journey. Her Joseph would take care of her, and she wanted him to be there when she gave birth to her Child.
We know the rest of the story – the journey, no place for them in the inns, the birth in a stable, angels and shepherds, the circumcision and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Simeon and Anna. Joseph learnt, little by little, who this Messiah was to be.
But no matter how great his destiny, God did not seem to make things easier for them. Joseph had to find lodging for them. He had to work for his family. When Herod sought to kill the Child, he had to flee into Egypt and stay there for seven long years until he was told to return. He had to decide to go back to Nazareth, rather than stay near Jerusalem.
They lived a normal Jewish life there, going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year. The twelfth year of a boy was considered to be the beginning of manhood. Jesus chose to stay back in Jerusalem, much to the anguish of his parents, who searched for Him everywhere among their kinsfolk. After a day’s journey they returned, to search for him in Jerusalem. Did Jesus know somehow that he was not Joseph’s child? How did Joseph feel when Jesus declared: Why did you search for me? Did you not know I had to be in my Father’s House?
Mary and Joseph had to live through all those years of half-fulfilled mysteries. The normal pranks of a growing boy mixed with signs or prophecies of His divinity. They had to have faith, faith enough to believe in angels, in dreams, in stars, in strangers from afar, in murderous and jealous rulers who wanted to kill the child.
So Jesus went back with them to Nazareth and was obedient to them. Joseph taught him his trade. He was an affectionate father to Him. Mary kept all these things in her heart.
By the time Jesus was ready to launch out on His mission, Joseph had already gone to rest with his fathers.
What a blessed life Joseph led, as head of this holy Family. He is a model for every family, for every working man who has to toil hard to make ends meet. He is an example of reverent respect for Mary his wife and her virginal maternity. He was a caring foster father for God’s own Son. There is no parallel in history. Joseph’s was a unique calling of humble and selfless dedication in the mystery of the Incarnation.