On Having the Eyes of Saint Joseph

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after Christmas, 2019.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, we are told by Saint Matthew. And then but a few verses later, again an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, now in Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and yet again to decide specifically where to dwell. This means there have been at least four, and probably five, times that Saint Matthew tells us Joseph has had an angel visit him in a dream. Five angel visits, five angel messages—five, we can say, annunciations, just as Blessed Mary experienced her annunciation by the angel Gabriel. This to some may sound rather fanciful legend, the stuff of fantasy literature. But let us remember that at the heart of this part of the Gospel narrative is the infancy of a child. At the birth of any child, the whole family is thrown into a state of wonder and joy. This is especially so for the parents. Holding the baby, hearing the baby, smelling the baby, simply being with the baby—the meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas is rooted in this very reality that Christ is born. We spend twelve days savouring the simple fact that unto us a child is born—twelve days, savouring our savior. This Child, Who is in Himself the new Temple of Jerusalem. O come let us adore Him.

I have said before that for such an important person in the gospel narrative, there are so few words ascribed to Joseph. But we know more about him than we might realize. He has been visited by the angel Gabriel five times! So although we do not know what Joseph looked like, or how he spoke, or hardly anything about his life before he took Mary as his wife, except that he was a carpenter of some sort, or what happened to Joseph in the time after Jesus at age twelve was found in the Temple—he died at some point after that, obviously, probably of natural causes of old age—we do know he has been visited five times by an angel to reveal God’s will. So on an existential level, we know quite a bit about Joseph—that he was open to, and well aware of, the supernatural. He was open to, and well aware of, God in His transcendent dimension—open and aware of the invisible reality of God.

And not just open and aware of the invisible reality of God, but ordering his life around the invisible reality of God. He was making crucial life decisions based upon the invisible reality of God revealed to him by the angel. First, to accept the truth that his betrothed had conceived by divine hands—that she was of Child by the Holy Ghost; second, that he, Joseph, was to be a public witness and defender to this divine action—the divine ordering of salvation itself through the Church which is the Body of Jesus, rather than sending Mary away quietly for her protection; third, that he, Joseph, should take the child and His mother to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, undoubtedly possessed by demons, and to wait there; and fourthly, to return to Israel, anf fifthly, eventually to dwell in Nazareth.

What then does all this say about Joseph? How do we interpret him, and his role in God’s plan for salvation through Christ? The first principle we should always use and start with is that we interpret scripture by scripture. Joseph led Mary and Jesus back from Egypt to Israel all by the guidance of God through the angel. Does this sound familiar? It should—it is what Moses did with Israel. Moses led Israel out of bondage to an evil ruler to the promised land of Israel, at all times led by God. And Saint Joseph recapitulates all of it. And if Joseph recapitulates Moses, then Mary and Jesus recapitulate the Ark of the Covenant (the container for God’s holy presence, which is symbolically Mary) and God’s holy presence itself in the cloud and voice (which is Christ). And unlike Israel who were constantly disobedient to God, constantly complaining to Moses, Mary and Jesus were fully obedient to God’s will expressed through Joseph, completely given over to following God’s will without delay. What’s more, just as Moses was able to glimpse the promised land with his own eyes but not reach it before dying, Joseph glimpsed salvation Himself—and was the guardian of the Promised Land-Made-Man in Jesus, for at least twelve years—the protector and dutiful guardian of the revelation of the divine ordering of the Church through Mary and through Jesus, the Son of God.

Saint Paul speaks of God giving us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. He speaks of having the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that we may know the hope to which God has called us, and the immeasurable greatness of His power. This is all the spirit and the eyes and the knowledge of Saint Joseph. We know nothing about him except how he gave his life as a sacrifice to God and to be an instrument for God to accomplish salvation through Christ crucified and risen. By the intercession of Saint Joseph, may we do the same.