Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Biblical Father-of-TheYear

This past Sunday was Father's Day, and as I often do, I found myself reflecting on the fathers of the Bible. The Earthly ones, I mean, not God the Father.

There are some notably good fathers in the Bible like Abraham, David, Job, Asa King of Judah (who has the distinction of being the only faithful King in Israel or Judah who both served the Lord and also raised a son who also served the Lord) to name a few.

There is one who stands out to me above the fold...and he is a father who isn't given a lot of credit in sermons and Biblical examples. His name is Joseph. His wife is better known, and his adopted son is the center of our faith.

Of course, I mean Joseph of Nazareth, husband of Mary and adopted father of Jesus Christ.

Consider Joseph for a moment. You have a man who has found the woman he wants to marry. He does everything right. He doesn't have sex with her until they are married. He is betrothed to her (that's engaged, for those of you from Palm Beach County, FL) and was presumably in the process of preparing a home for the two of them as Jewish tradition dictated at the time.

Then he finds out that Mary, who again, HE HASN'T HAD SEX WITH, is pregnant.* It's clearly not his child. Joseph has two obvious choices in the eyes of the people around him: divorce Mary quietly (likely by sending her away to a distant relative to live out her days in disgrace) or have her stoned to death. Joseph was a kind man who apparently loved Mary and did not want to disgrace her -- much less kill her -- and planned to use the former option.

Then Joseph was informed, by an angel, that Mary's child was the Son of God and that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He still could have chosen to send Mary away, but instead chose to marry her as planned and raise Jesus as his own child. After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had four sons (James, Joses, Judas and Simon) and an indeterminate number of daughters.

Before Jesus was even born, Joseph made some sacrifices. He married Mary and likely subjected himself to significant ridicule by his peers. He also refrained from exercising his marital rights with Mary until after Jesus was born (that's "have sex with Mary" for those of you from Palm Beach County, FL). **

After Jesus was born, Joseph had to protect his adopted son from an evil King before he could settle down to life. Joseph was then charged to teach Jesus, along with his four natural sons, his trade of carpentry. I'm sure it wasn't easy to raise the Son of God. Yes, he was without sin and therefore would have been perfectly obedient to Joseph -- but his other four boys were not perfect and subject to the usual issues of childhood. I'm sure there was some rivalry against Jesus from the other brothers ("Sure, Dad, we're not perfect like Jesus...the best son ever!")

Joseph, knowing that Jesus wasn't his natural son, took on the difficult and trying task of raising Jesus as his own. He is perhaps the best known adopted father in history. I know (second hand) what it takes to be an adopted father of a child in general. I have an adopted sister and my fiancee has an adopted brother -- so I have witnessed my dad with my sister and have heard stories from my future father-in-law about his experiences.

Yet Joseph did what God asked him to do. He raised Jesus. He taught him to build tables and chairs, boats, carts, whatever. He handled Jesus' problems with His brothers. He cared for Jesus as his own, while knowing all along that this child was in fact HIS God.

So, this week after Father's Day, I'd like to salute Joseph of Nazareth. I look forward to meeting him someday in Heaven. Mary gets all the credit and PR -- and well she should -- but Joseph deserves a nod as well. He raised our Lord as his own child. As human Biblical fathers go, I'd say Joseph gets the top spot.


* If the child was indeed his, given his betrothal to Mary and according common practice in Joseph's time, it would not have been considered sin. Many historians report that a betrothed couple in Israel were considered married and allowed to have sex, although they did not live together.

** Despite what the Catholic Church teaches, the Bible says Joseph "did not know (Mary) till she had brought forth her firstborn Son." Translation: He did not know (have sex with) Mary UNTIL JESUS WAS BORN. It did not say he never had sex with her.

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