I have mentioned before that Israelites are typical Middle Easterners, seeing themselves as members of a group rather than as individuals. The most important group for these people was their family. In the family, the Middle Easterner finds his past, his present and his future. They lived together in what would properly be called a family compound. The women and small children would live in the area furthest away from the entrance to the compound while the adult men and the teenage boys would live near the entrance in order to protect the women and children from intruders. Small children would have the ability to move between the two groups freely, carrying both messages and any news between the two groups.
Our typical way of looking at the Holy Family is based more upon our own style of family life than upon their style of life. Consequently, we find it difficult to understand how Joseph and Mary could have lost Jesus as they left Jerusalem to return to their home in Nazareth. The Gospel gives us details that correspond to their family lifestyle when the evangelist tells us that they thought “that he was in the caravan,” and that “they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances.” Nothing is strange about this for these people who lived in extended family situations.
This story is the last story in the Infancy Narrative of St. Luke’s Gospel. The Infancy Narrative began in the Temple with the Annunciation of John’s birth to his father, Zechariah. The story of Jesus speaking with the elders in the Temple functions both on a literary and on a theological level. As a narrative, these two Temple events act as “book ends” to the Infancy Narrative, or what would properly be called an “inclusio.” Theologically the story points us to the true nature of Jesus when we tells his mother that he must be about his father’s work or in his father’s house. While the answer he gives Mary and Joseph may seem somewhat disrespectful given his age, we have to remember that this story is the evangelist’s way of identifying Jesus as the Son of God while at the same time concluding this part of the Gospel.
Joseph stands for us as example of humility and of obedience to God’s will. To claim Jesus as his son would not have entered into Joseph’s mind as no observant Jewish man would claim as his own something that belonged to someone else. Joseph is therefore also known as a “just man.” Though there is very little information about Joseph in the Gospel, that information does reveal to us that Joseph was a perfect complement to Mary and is worthy of our veneration because he is as disponable to God’s will as is Mary. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, we are told that Joseph willingly travels to Egypt to protect the child Jesus and his mother. This action would have been very difficult as it would separate him from those in whom he finds his meaning, his past, his present and his future. Like the disciples who will come to follow Jesus later in the Gospel, Joseph leaves everything to care for Jesus.
Our veneration of St. Joseph and our observance of his feast always falls within the Lenten season. We pause in our time of fasting to remember one whose devotion to God’s will should be an inspiration to us all.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator