18 May “Trust and Love” – Lessons from the life of St Joseph
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:3-5)
The Bible declares to us that from the beginning of salvation history, trust is an integral requirement for pleasing God. When human beings let go of their impossibilities and troubles, and learn to wait for God’s intervention mighty things happen. We see this in the life of Abraham, the father of faith. Abraham trusted in God’s word, that he would become the Father of all nations. Abraham’s trust in the Lord is exemplified, as he is ready to offer his only son of old age, when God asks for the sacrifice. The little shepherd boy David trusted in the name of the God to defeat giants and kingdoms that rose against him. He was elevated to become the King of Israel and the ancestor of the promised Messiah, who will come to save humankind. It is only fitting that his descendent, Joseph, a hard-working carpenter from Nazareth kept up this great trust in God. Due to this trust, God entrusted him to be the legal father and guardian to his son Jesus.
The Man of Dreams
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. (Psalm 16:7)
Joseph belonged to the royal line of David, indicating that he would be the rightful heir to the throne. However, he lived in a small village in Galilee, called Nazareth. This village, Nazareth, far from the city of Jerusalem, the seat of the royal lineage and home to the Temple, was infamous for its insignificance. Scriptures did not attribute any prophesies related to the Messiah in the periphery of the country. Nevertheless, it was in this forgotten town, that Mary received the message of the Angel that she was to become the Mother of the Saviour. It was in this little village that the angel of God appeared to Joseph, her betrothed, in a dream, instructing him of the Divine significance of the Birth of Jesus. A word of God through this divine dream put Joseph’s doubts to rest. In his dream, it is revealed that the child is the promised Emmanuel, prophesised by Isaiah. He is given the right to name the child, a right that lies with the father. This denotes the great responsibility that God had given to Joseph. As each expectant Jew waits for the Messiah, Joseph was quick to understand this. He followed the counsel of the angel and acted upon it. He took charge of the Holy Family. St Joseph does not give in to his fears and doubts, rather embraces God’s plan and trusts in Him. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic letter Patris Corde writes, “Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.”
Just like Joseph the patriarch, the son of Jacob from the Old Testament, St Joseph, derived the will of God through dreams. His own brothers sold the patriarch Joseph as a slave. He was then accused and imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit. Yet, Joseph did not lose heart and trusted in God. He did not lose his connection to the God of his father and so, “the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.” Through his submission, God exalted him to a high position. And God chose to save his whole family and whole of Egypt from the severe famine, through him. In the same way, St Joseph was open to God’s words through tough situations in his life. Through his obedience and trust, God made him the earthly father of Jesus, who would save the world.
St Joseph’s Yes to God
When in Bethlehem, St Joseph and Mother Mary did not find an inn. St Joseph did not give in to despair during the difficult situation. Rather, he found a place in the stable. St Joseph was always open to God’s will and his mind was tuned to hear his word. When the family were in danger due to Herod’s decree to kill the infants, he was warned by an angel in a dream. Joseph did not wait till the morning to get up and leave. The Bible says, “Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt” (Matthew 2:14). The Holy Family might have been tired after the long journey to Bethlehem, followed by the journey to Jerusalem to fulfil the requirements of the law. Still, Joseph did not wait for a comfortable situation or timing to leave. He did not wait for the light of the day, so that they could avoid the dangers of night travel. He trusted in the mercy of God and followed his word immediately. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4) would have echoed in the ears of St Joseph, as he took his family to a foreign land. In Egypt, St Joseph would have had to be an outsider. He would have had to set up a new business, overcome prejudices and feed his family. Nothing daunted his relationship with God. For the angel once again appeared in a dream, when Herod died to take the Holy Family back to their home. St Joseph did not cling to the new country, where he would have established himself by now. He was ready to follow God’s plan and return to Nazareth.
St Joseph had a great responsibility –the task of bringing up the Son of God. St Joseph’s trust and total submission to God would have made this possible. Joseph’s obedience was never inactive. As St Thomas Aquinas writes, “Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.” The belief of Joseph was not of passivity or of being resigned. Rather, it was a point at which the human understanding worked together with God’s will. This prompted the saint to come up with creative solutions, when he was faced with challenges. The dangerous road, the new country and the daily routine life of Nazareth are also instances that we face in our lives. We are often called out of our comfort zones in life. Change and monotony disturb us. At these moments, when we surrender to God’s will like Joseph did, our journey of life becomes a journey with Jesus. Then, finding the narrow path will not be very difficult. “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
St Joseph’s response to God’s word was always immediate. This immediacy shows complete trust in the providence of God. His immediacy to trust and submit to the Divine Will changed challenges into opportunities. His submission to the word of God was born of love. For Jesus would go on to say to his disciples, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me” (John 14:21). Jesus would have seen the humble submission and active obedience of his earthly father to his Heavenly Father. He would have seen the great love of St Joseph, who put his complete trust in the Lord. The patron of the Church, through his example, calls all of us to completely trust in God to receive his revelations and understand it. All we need to do is ask. And Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, who would “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
A righteous man
Paul writes in the letter to the Romans, “But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5) This faith of Joseph modelling that of Abraham, prompts Matthew, to describe him as a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). Through this trust, St Joseph, played an important role in the salvation story. He was the head of the Holy Family in which the Word became man and dwelt among us. St Joseph’s life and mission reflected the need for trust in God. More than ever, in today’s world, we need this great trust in God. Only when we completely submit to His Word, can he work miracles through us. Pope Francis points out that “we are all like St Joseph: A shadow of the heavenly father…And a shadow that follows his Son.” This is a great reminder to us that created of the image and likeness of God, we are called to imitate his love, mercy and humility in our lives and societies. This will help us remind the world of our salvation in Jesus. This will help us remind the broken hearted of the great love of Our Father in Heaven. And for this, as the patron of the Church and Family, St Joseph continues to guide us through his life, virtues and intercession.