Luke only mentions his name a couple of times; Mark and John not at all. The little we do know of him comes from a few verses in Matthew—and that’s not a lot. We know he cared enough for Mary that he wanted to protect her from the public scorn and disgrace that a young woman in her circumstances was destined for. We know that he was a righteous man that believed what the angel of the Lord had spoken to him (in a dream; always in a dream) and thus was obedient in all that he was asked to do and to be. We know that he led his family to Bethlehem for the census and was resourceful in providing a safe (yet humble) space for his young bride to give birth. And we know that he protected his young family from danger when he fled with them in the middle of the night to Egypt to keep them safe from Herod’s wrath. Caring, protective, righteous, believing, obedient, providing…a pretty good list of qualities to say the least.
And yet Joseph was never intended to be a main character in the story, probably because, although his role was important, he realized that he was not the point—Jesus was. It is as if he voluntarily stepped aside, into the background, in order for the main character to take center stage. His role in this drama would be one of background rather than spotlight. He was simply part of the supporting cast; somehow both recognizing and embracing this reality. In fact, Joseph’s very best work—the nurture, care, and guidance of Jesus in his formative years—was done in virtual anonymity. Not a word, other than the instance at the Temple when Jesus was twelve, was ever written about it. He was a hidden and silent partner in the unfolding story of God’s life on earth. For the most part he was unrecognized, unsung, and unnoticed—and it is simply beautiful. It makes me want to be just like him; to realize that God is the point of the story, and therefore to embrace the covert and behind-the-scenes ways we are called to help “bring him into” this dark and broken world.