The Invisible Joseph
The four gospels in the New Testament tell us the story of our Lord Jesus and his mother Mary. The Christian church and church history celebrates the life and work of Jesus and Mary. But, Joseph the adopted father of Jesus is invisible. The Roman Catholic Church venerates Joseph as St. Joseph but the Protestant church has comparatively less space for Joseph. Therefore, the adopted father of Jesus – Joseph, is Mary’s Joseph - the invisible Joseph.
Angel Gabriel brings the good news to Mary. Luke 1: 31 reads, ‘And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus’. Joseph - the adopted father of Jesus is invisible for many reasons.
Firstly, Joseph’s contribution is unwanted in the whole episode of Mary - conceiving and delivering baby Jesus.
Secondly, he is also made invisible as he (as father) had no contribution in naming the child ‘Jesus’. Angel Gabriel informs the child’s name as ‘Jesus’ - to Mary (Luke 1: 31, Matt 1: 21).
Thirdly, Joseph is persuaded to cover up, be silent about the pregnancy of Mary by the Holy Spirit.
Fourthly, though Joseph is thoroughly non-instrumental (unwanted), invisible (as a male - father, husband of Mary), he happily takes up the responsibility of raising baby Jesus and accepting Mary as his wife (Matt 1: 24 – 25).
In the process he takes up the following roles:
-Faithful bridegroom to his bride: Joseph was let down when he knew that Mary had conceived. But, Joseph wanted to protect the dignity of Mary and accepts her as his bride and wife.
-Adopted father: Though Joseph does all the duties of a father for baby Jesus and his mother Mary, Joseph was not the father. Baby Jesus was of the Holy Spirit.
-Faithful to the family all along: Though Joseph was not the father of Jesus, the first born of Mary, but, Joseph continued to be a dutiful father, caring for Jesus and the family.
Invisibility is the state of an object or person that cannot be seen. An object in this state is said to be invisible (literally, "not visible"). Many women are invisible in the Bible. They are referred to as Pharaoh’s daughter, Jephthah’s daughter, Manoah’s wife, ‘in memory of her’ and so on.
Joseph is a man overshadowed by his Son Jesus and his wife – mother Mary. Today we live in an age of visibility (due to mass media), where, everybody wants to be in the limelight, wants their contributions to be engraved in the stones of memory - eternity.
Also, in a materialistic, patriarchal culture the contribution of ordinary, poor people, women and nature are simply taken for granted and many times undervalued, devalued, down played and ignored.
Many refuse to take up tasks, responsibilities that would not provide them the following: 1) Publicity: is notice or attention given by the newspapers, television, public, etc. to something/somebody. Everybody wants their name to be in the newspaper, in the public space (of course, for the right reason). 2) Fame: is being known or talked about by many people because of what you have achieved. 3) Limelight: is the focus of public attention. 4) Mileage: is the amount of use that you get from something. Joseph never claimed, any of the above.
Joseph never claimed to be the father of Jesus - an entitlement, something that he had the official right to. Joseph did not linger to vain status. He did not show undue or excessive pride in his appearance or achievements (that he accepted a woman, if not for his acceptance and protection, Mary should have been stoned to death, for adultery). Joseph had no idle (that he would raise only a child born to him), worthless vain pretensions.
Even in the four Gospels, Joseph is known as Jesus’ father and Mary’s husband. He is not known as a person in his own right (very similar to the experience and reality of the subaltern, the voiceless, the powerless, the oppressed and the subjugated). Joseph was not the husband of Mary and also, he was not the father of Jesus. But, in real life, Joseph (for the public) was the husband and father of Jesus. Fulfilling, carrying out responsibility is more important than entitlements and vain pretensions.
In Joseph, we see a model who chose and accepted to be invisible for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in Mary’s life, to bring forth the Savior of the world – Jesus Christ. Can we choose to be invisible like Joseph and silently do our God-given responsibility like the great example - Joseph.
Prayer: God, help us to resist the temptation of publicity, fame, limelight and doing things for a mileage. God help us to do our responsibility – silently, pleasing only YOU. Amen
Dr W S Annie is presently serving as Associate Professor of Theology at Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India.
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For Other Articles by Dr W S Annie
Joseph: The Epitome of Self - Discipline