Do You See St. Joseph as Human? – Part 1

by a staff worker

Do you really see Mary and Joseph as human? Do you see them not only as saints highly exalted in splendour in heaven but also as people who lived and struggled and suffered as we do?

If you have trouble identifying with them and believing that they understand us and can help us, then maybe you need to look more closely at their lives when they were on earth.

We are asked to trust God, to obey his will without always understanding it or foreseeing the results—in small ways. But Mary and Joseph were asked to sacrifice common sense, intelligence, and their natural reactions and to open themselves up to ridicule and rejection.

In fact, they were asked to go against all that seemed sensible and right. Such radical obedience is seldom asked of anyone. God certainly asked a tremendous amount of faith and trust from them.

Of course, Mary and Joseph had a unique role to play in salvation history, and God had given them special gifts fitting them for this. However, we can not lightly pass over the pain much of this must have caused them.

Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, was asked to bear a child. She said yes. How would Joseph react? Her family? The neighbors? How would you like to go and tell your husband-to-be that you are pregnant, totally apart from any intimacy with him, see his pained expression, his anguish perhaps, and utter not a word in self-defence?

Mary had to do this. Probably to be accused of almost any other act would have been less painful. To be pregnant out of wedlock meant submitting herself to the rejection of probably everyone, even the danger of death. According to Jewish law, the penalty for this was death by stoning.

Mary had to stand before Joseph and face his accusing eyes, his pain, whatever he chose to do to her—even perhaps condemn her to death. Mary had to trust most deeply that God would intervene when he chose.

And Joseph? What is worse for a husband-to-be than to believe that his beloved has betrayed him in this way? What agony he must have been in until an angel came and explained things to him.

Imagine oneself in this state of affairs! It is hard to do so—the pain and apprehension would be dreadful. And yet they trusted.

Joseph took Mary as his wife and they settled down. But the baby was probably to be born less than nine months after the marriage. Their neighbors must have talked, perhaps viciously.

They would still be suffering from this when suddenly another hurdle presented itself.

Just as Mary’s time drew close to fulfilment, Joseph announced that they had to go to Bethlehem for a census. This was a long journey. Mary, about to give birth, had to go on the back of a donkey, bouncing along the rough roads of the time for a distance like that!

Anyone who knows anything at all about pregnancy would say that in the natural order this was sheer madness.

To go without access to a doctor or midwife, in the fullness of time, with one’s first baby—a young woman hardly developed herself. To go without a reservation for a place to stay and probably little money for it either or for food. Why, anything could happen!

The Baby might even be born along the way! Mary and Joseph put natural, human considerations aside.

They were in God’s care—they carried God with them. They should worry! He would make all come out right! God would take care of everything. However, relying on that took tremendous faith and trust. Mary and Joseph were people, not angels!

Once there, Joseph could obtain nothing but a dirty cave with animals. This would be just about the last place on earth we would choose for a confinement! But since it was all they could obtain, Mary and Joseph accepted it and set about making the best of it. This is where God had led them.

There is no mother on earth living in whatever kind of poor hovel who cannot identify with Mary; with this Mother who gave birth in the most abject poverty!

Then when the Baby was born, think again of what Mary and Joseph were asked to believe in faith. God had spoken to them. They were told that this Child was of the Holy Spirit. Mary knew it had to be because she knew that no human act had preceded it.

But Jesus looked like any ordinary little baby. He may or may not have been more beautiful than most—but definitely he was a human baby. There was nothing in him to tell you that he was also divine.

Mary and Joseph pondered these things in their hearts and knew that they did not need to understand it all.

Behind the screen of these ordinary details of a birth, of an ordinary cave and ordinary cows and oxen, or rather within these ordinary things, God’s will was being done, and the moment was flooded with divine action.

Mary and Joseph believed even though they did not then understand all the import of what was happening. God was in charge, and his hand was moving events, accomplishing his holy will. Nothing else mattered.

What strong faith and love and trust and hope must have been flowing through their souls at that time!