The Dream of St. Joseph, by Juan de Borgona, c. 1535
The Dream of St. Joseph, by Juan de Borgona, c. 1535

St. Joseph and Joseph Son of Jacob

. . . He had sent a man ahead of them,

Joseph, who was sold as a slave.

His feet were hurt with fetters,

his neck was put in a collar of iron;

until what he had said came to pass

the word of the LORD tested him.

The king sent and released him,

the ruler of the peoples set him free;

he made him lord of his house,

and ruler of all his possessions (Psalm 105:17-21)

 

     The Joseph in the psalm passage above is, of course, Joseph the son of Jacob, not the Joseph whose feast we celebrate today.  Don’t worry, I’m not confusing one Joseph for another.  I’m beginning with this reading because there’s more to the comparison of the two than the same name.  In fact the comparison is very likely the whole point of the same name. “The New Testament in the Old is concealed,”  as St. Augustine said, “and in the New Testament the Old is revealed.”

Lord Over His House

     This is not something that I’ve heard discussed or explained. I’m sure someone discusses and explains it somewhere, however, because it’s in the Litany of St. Joseph.  There, just before the closing prayer, we find this verse and response:

 

V. He made him lord over his house,

R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

 

That’s a word-for-word borrowing from Psalm 105:21, written a millennium (give or take) before the birth of Jesus. Clearly, we are intended to make a comparison between the two men. Here’s what we find: the first Joseph came to Egypt as a slave, and because God gave him the ability to interpret dreams, he rose to become Pharoah’s right hand man (Genesis 41:15-44).  The second Joseph also obtained his position because of a dream, in his case one he dreamed himself.  As he was sleeping an angel of God came to him and said:

 

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:20-21).

 

And so Joseph agreed to the marriage with Mary, and became the adoptive father of the Son of God.

                    Joseph Interpreting Pharoah’s Dream, by Reginald Arthur, 1894

Steward of the King

     The significant connection between the two Josephs, however, is not that they’re dreamers.  That’s not the detail that made its way from the Old Testament to the litany of the New Testament saint.  Rather, it’s the fact that both were chosen as stewards of a king.  Joseph Son of Jacob is actually a type, that is, a foreshadowing in the Hebrew Scriptures of someone or something that emerges in full with the coming of Christ.  Joseph son of Jacob serves a human king, but Joseph father of Jesus serves the King of all kings.

     I’d like to look a little closer at the idea of stewardship on this Feast of St. Joseph.  I referred above to St. Joseph as the “foster father” and the “adoptive father” of Jesus.  These are terms we often use to describe him. It might be more helpful, however, to think of Joseph as adopted rather than adopting.  An adoptee receives his father’s authority just as a natural born son would do.  Pharoah adopted Joseph the Patriarch when he passed on his kingly authority to him.  God likewise adopted St. Joseph and passed on his paternal authority to him. St. Joseph, in turn, passed it on to his own adopted son, who was also the natural born son of the supernatural Father in Heaven.

All Fathers are Stewards

     St. Joseph as steward puts flesh on St. Pauls admonition: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:4) The idea of stewardship means the children put into our care are our children, but they are God’s children first: “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine.” (Ezekial 18:4)  Just as a steward is answerable to his king for his use of the authority given to him, we are answerable to our Lord for how we care for the children he has given to us. Our authority exists solely for their sake, to form them as God wants us to do, not to build up or to please ourselves.

     On the other hand, St. Joseph’s example also reminds us that, as stewards, we exercise real authority, since it doesn’t derive from our own worthiness, but from God the Father.  I’ve heard some parents say that they feel like hypocrites for warning their children against sins that they have committed themselves.  It’s not hypocrisy at all: that’s our job.  God determines what’s right and wrong.  We, as his stewards, simply pass it along.

Failure of Stewardship

The refusal of so many fathers to accept that authority, has profound negative consequences for individual children and society as a whole.  Children who grow up without fathers are much more likely to live in poverty:

Graph from fathers.com

Children from fatherless homes are also much more prone to a whole host of pathologies:

 

Graph from “Effects of Fatherlessness on Children’s Development,” The Marriage and Religion Research Institute (https://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF14K18.pdf)

     According to the Pew Research Center, 23% of children in the United States, almost 1 in 4, live in single parent households.  That’s higher than any other country in the world. Given the other statistics cited, that’s also disastrous news for those children individually, and for society as a whole. Clearly, it’s much better for us fathers to marry the mothers of our children and stay with the family.  But is that all we need to to do to fulfill the responsibilities of paternal stewardship?

     Again, no, that’s just the minimum requirement.  Consider one more statistic, derived from Swiss census information.* Researchers in Switzerland examined  the relationship between the parents’ church attendance and that of their children, and examined the different effects of the father’s religious practice (or lack thereof) and that of the mother. The researchers found that, however frequently or not the mother attended church, if the father of a family was not a churchgoer only 1 in 50 of the children attended as adults.  In families where the father did attend church regularly, at least 1 in 3 of the children were church attendees as adults.

The Prayer of a Righteous Man

    Whatever the conventional wisdom of our present gender bending world, mothers and fathers have separate but critically important tasks.  Mothers play a crucial role in the early development of children. Fathers, as the data above demonstrates, have a responsibility for teaching their sons and daughters how to connect to the world outside the home.  That paternal responsibility is not limited to helping them learn  how to navigate this present world. Fathers are also a living link between their children and the Father of fathers beyond this world.

     St. Joseph can serve much the same role for all of us.  He serves as a model of the paternal virtues of love, patience, self-sacrifice, and protection of his family.  He is also a powerful intercessor: as St. James reminds us, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. ” (James 5:16) And after all, just as Egyptians could appeal to Pharoah’s steward Joseph, we can appeal to the steward of the King of Kings, Joseph Foster Father of Jesus.

 

V. He made him lord over his house,

R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

Let us pray.

O God, who in Thine ineffable providence didst vouchsafe to choose blessed Joseph to be the spouse of Thy most holy Mother: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may have him for an intercessor in heaven, whom we venerate as our protector on earth. Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.

 

*details can be found in The demographic characteristics of national minorities in certain European states – Volume 2 (Population Studies No. 31) (2000).   

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