A Father to Us All
By Chris Sparks (Mar 19, 2014)
One Christmas, my cousin Erin asked me, "St. Joseph wasn't Jesus' biological father. How could Jesus really be part of that genealogy in Matthew's Gospel?"
I'd been getting the same question from other family members the year before around Christmas time, and hadn't really answered it to anyone's satisfaction. I'd pointed out that, in ancient times, people entered families all the time through covenants (and still do through marriage), that adoption in first century Judaism was enough to establish a blood relationship, even if people weren't related biologically. Finally, I'd said, "It just doesn't matter. It's just not an issue in Scriptural interpretation!" But nobody was satisfied.
I'd had time to think since that first round of questions, though, and now I had an answer for her.
We have a cousin, Dan, who's adopted — but honestly, I don't think anyone ever really thinks about that. He's cousin Dan, just as much a part of the family as anyone else. Heck, I don't think a lot of us even knew he was adopted for years, and then when we found out, we'd just shrug it off. So I said, "Is Dan a Doumit?"
Immediately, Erin looked offended. "Of course he is!"
Then her expression changed completely. "Oh."
Joseph — whose feast day we celebrate March 19 — is truly the father of Jesus, even though he's a stepfather and not a biological father. First and foremost, Jesus is the divine Son of God the Father. Then Jesus is the biological son of Mary, and of Mary alone. Finally, Jesus is Joseph's adopted son. All of those relationships are solid, eternal realities. Jesus will be Joseph's son to the end of time and into eternity, now and forever and ever, amen. And Jesus will eternally owe Joseph the honor God's own law requires we give to our fathers and mothers.
What does it mean to be a father? Saint Joseph knew, and he lived it completely. After all, God almighty could have chosen anyone to wed the Blessed Virgin Mary and become the foster father of God the Son. But He chose St. Joseph. Imagine the responsibility! Joseph had to be an icon of God the Father to God the Son. He had to "take the place" on earth of God the Father to Jesus's humanity. That's a task that would break any man, save the humblest.
He had to love like the Father, and so the Holy Spirit came to his aid. He had to raise Jesus well, to teach Jesus — teach God almighty! — just as any other first century Jewish father would teach a first century Jewish boy. And what happened? Scripture tells us:
He [Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man. — Lk 2:51-52
Jesus obeyed Joseph and Mary. He grew in wisdom and age and favor before God and man by obeying His earthly parents. What parents they must have been, the Immaculate Virgin and her most chaste spouse, that God could become obedient to them!
So turn to St. Joseph for a father's love and care, for the prayer and the graces you need to live a Christian life. Turn to the foster father of Jesus Christ, a human being like the rest of us, for the same sort of prayerful protection and wise direction he gave God's only begotten Son. Turn to Mary's husband, the just man (Mt 1:19), for help in living the law of God and learning to love the Blessed Virgin Mary as he did.