Where is Joseph?
He’s talked to, and about, but he never talks. And then later he is completely absent.
Early on in the story, an angel tells him in a dream to not divorce Mary. He acts, but says nothing.
“But after he had decided what he was going to do, an angel appeared to him in a dream saying ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t be concerned about taking Mary as your wife, because the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you shall name him Jesus (meaning ‘Yahweh saves’) because he will free people from their sins.’” (MT 1:20-21, in “The Nativity”)
Later, another angel speaks to him, and he is again silent.
“The Magi left, and an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel said ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the baby and his mother and stay there until I tell you it is safe to return. Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.’ That very night he got up, and taking Mary and the child, escaped to Egypt. They stayed there until King Herod died. This fulfilled the prophecy of Hosea who said: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (MT 2:13-15, “The flight into Egypt”)
Yet again, an angel tells him what to do and he acts, but does not say anything. In this story, he is warned in two different dreams.
“Herod died, and an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was in Egypt, saying ‘Get up! Take the child and his mother and return to Israel, because those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ Joseph immediately traveled to Israel with Jesus and Mary. While on the way he learned that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was king over Judea, so he was afraid to travel there. He was warned in a dream as well, so he went to Galilee instead and settled in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled the words of the prophets who said “He will be called a Nazarene.” (MT 2:19-23, “The return to Nazareth”)
He’s very attentive to God’s message – he protects Jesus three different times after being told what to do in a dream. He doesn’t waver or question. The Gospel says that he acts immediately, without question.
But then it is as if he disappears after the early years.
He’s mentioned indirectly when Jesus stays behind at the Temple, but is present.
“His parents were astonished when they saw him. Mary said ‘Son! Why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been worried sick looking for you.’” (Luke 2:48, in “In his Father’s house”)
Later on, Joseph is mentioned, but not present, when Jesus goes to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in Galilee. Where is he? Only his sisters are in the synagogue – none of the rest of the family are present.
“They were amazed and said ‘How did he get to be so wise, and how is he able to perform miracles? Isn’t this Joseph the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother Mary, and isn’t he the brother of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters sitting here with us? Where does he get these ideas?’ They were offended by what he said.” (MT 13:54b-57a, MK 6:2b-3, LK 4:22, “Rejected in his hometown”)
Later, only Jesus’ mother and siblings come to see him while he’s talking with a crowd.
“His mother and siblings came to him while he was speaking with a large crowd, but they couldn’t reach him. They sent word that they wanted to speak with him. Someone in the crowd told him ‘Look, your mother and siblings are standing outside waiting to speak with you.’ Instead of going out, he replied ‘Who is my family?’ Indicating his followers who were seated in a circle around him, he said ‘Here they are! Whoever hears and does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and brother and sister.’” (MT 12:46-50, MK 3:31-35, LK 8:19-21, “True Relationships”)
At Jesus’ death, Mary is present, and Jesus makes arrangements for her to be taken care of by his disciple John. Presumably he would not have done this if Joseph were still alive.
“Jesus’ mother, along with Mary Magdalene and his aunt Mary (who was the wife of Clopas), were standing by his cross. When Jesus noticed his mother standing with the disciple he loved, he said ‘Woman, here is your son.’ To the disciple he said, “Here is your mother.” From that point on the disciple made her a part of his family. (JN 19:25-27, “Jesus’ provision for his mother”)
So where is Joseph? We can assume that he died, rather than divorcing Mary. So why is this not mentioned? Quite often the deaths of important people are mentioned in great detail in the scriptures. Why was he left out? And why are there no recorded words from him? Is Joseph an afterthought, a bit player?
Perhaps the image of him isn’t filled in completely so that we can see ourselves in his role. We all are to follow his example and respond immediately to God’s message. We are to protect Jesus at all cost. We are to support him and those who bring him into the world.
(all Gospel readings are from “The Condensed Gospel”)