Who is Joseph?

The Gospel Reading is Matthew 1:18-25.

Today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew is almost a mini-Christmas. We’re hearing the story of Jesus’ birth one week early and we’re focusing on Matthew’s telling of the story. And this telling is very short. Jesus’ birth is only one verse long. The bulk of the the story is tied to a guy named Joseph.

So who is Joseph? It’s a bit complicated. We hear he’s a carpenter and…that’s about it. The details about Joseph’s life are lacking. Today’s story shares that Joseph was not involved with Jesus’ conception which means Jesus is not Joseph’s biological father. Using our modern day language and context, we could call Joseph Jesus’ stepfather. Joseph, like Mary, will take care of Jesus and his siblings. Our community is full of stepfathers, step siblings, stepmothers, and more. Our families are incredibly diverse in structure and makeup. Joseph, like all parents, is encouraged to be a parent even if the children they are raising are not their biological children. A parent does more than just share DNA with their child. A parent takes the time, energy, resources, and makes appropriate sacrifices so the child can thrive.

This description of parent fits who Joseph is. He raises Jesus. But we need to be careful with our stepfather language because, in Jesus’ time, there were no step-parents. There were only parents. Our language can add helpful additions to explain the complicated relationships that exist in families. But, in the ancient world, those additions rarely existed. Instead, a child with parents who claim him as their own did not depend on biology to set who belongs to what family. Once a child was claimed by a parent, that child had a parent and a family. God the Father is Jesus’ Father but Joseph, in the eyes of the ancient world, is also Jesus’ father too.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 12/18/2016.