Though the Gospels provide very little direct information about Joseph, I believe we can learn a lot about him by looking at his son. As I read the stories of Jesus, it appears to me that Joseph was intentional about teaching and modeling for Jesus who God is and what God’s will was for his life.
When Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son—likening God to the patient and merciful father who took back his son even after the boy had demanded his inheritance in advance and then squandered everything on wild living—had Jesus seen this kind of love and forgiveness by Joseph in response to one or more of his brothers?
When Jesus spoke about the importance of telling the truth, might he have been describing what he had learned by watching Joseph?
When Jesus taught his disciples that true greatness is found in humble service, might he have been describing what he had seen in his carpenter father every single day?
When Jesus said we’re not to look at a woman with lust in our hearts, was he repeating what he had learned from Joseph as a teen? Doesn’t that sound like something a dad might tell his son when the son is thirteen or fourteen?
When Jesus said we should do to others what we want them to do to us, is it possible he had grown up seeing this value embodied by his earthly dad, both in Joseph’s business and in his personal life?
Jesus undoubtedly learned many things from his mother, but I have to believe that much of what we see in Jesus reflected the life and witness of Joseph.
When I think about Joseph’s story, what strikes me is that the person whose birth we celebrate at Christmas was in large part shaped by his human father (or stepfather, or adoptive father, or foster father—each of these terms might fit). It seems likely to me that Joseph intentionally taught and modeled love, faith, and fatherhood, and that what Jesus learned from him shaped his life and ministry.
How Do Others See Jesus (and Joseph) in You?
How are you shaping the children entrusted to your care? These might be your own children or grandchildren. If you don’t have children these might be nieces or nephews, young people in the workplace, children in Sunday school or youth group. It’s an important question for us all, but I think it is particularly important for men. What are you teaching about life to the children who look up to you? What image of God are you painting for them? When you die, what will your children and grandchildren, or other children, say they learned from you? What lessons will they continue to carry with them?
None of us has been asked to do what Joseph did in raising the Messiah. But every mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle has been asked to raise children of God, to show them a picture of God’s love and mercy, and to teach them intentionally what it means to be God’s children.
When we do that, we follow the example of a righteous man, Joseph of Nazareth.