There is something strongly impressive in the Bible’s final remark on the life of St. Joseph: “Then [Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. . . . And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:51–52). The Son of God was raised, that is to say, as any little boy should be raised, growing day by day in the practical and moral skills of life, the formation of character, even as he grew in height and build. While God’s Son assumed humanity in his mother’s womb, it was Joseph who taught him what it means to be a man. Thus, Joseph was to leave the forming mark ( charakter in Greek) of his own manhood on the God-Man. Jesus, in his hometown, was known as “the carpenter’s son” ( ho tou tektonos huios—Matt. 13:55).
Few if any writers have shown as much exegetical insight into St. Joseph, I think, as Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached a homily on this saint back in the twelfth century. Bernard spoke of Joseph as “the man of virtue,” who “deserved to be so honored by God that he was called, and was believed to be, the father of God” ( meruit honorari a Deo ut pater Dei et dictus et creditus sit).
Detecting the subtle suggestions dropped in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Bernard compared St. Joseph to his Old Testament counterpart, Joseph the Patriarch. Both men, Bernard noted, were men of chastity, unwilling to touch women who did not belong to them. Each man, likewise, was driven into Egypt by the ill will ( invidia) of others, in the first case by the older sons of Jacob, and in the second by King Herod.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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