Many Christians are devotees of Saint Joseph, they honour and appreciate him as an example of a holy man who obeyed God’s will, and the guardian of the Holy Family, but is this love for Saint Joseph not superficial? This piece, therefore, serves to illustrate briefly the relevance of Saint Joseph as an example of a disciple for Christians in the light of St. Matthew the evangelist. The Gospel of Matthew was written around the year A.D. 85, where the Matthean Christian community was experiencing a crisis of faith. Many Christians came from Judaism, and they were afraid to abandon the traditional faith and adhere to the following of Jesus. In order to help them, Matthew writes his Gospel, a kind of summary of the Christian proposal for those who want to become an authentic disciple of Jesus. For him, Christian discipleship is all about listening to the Word of God and putting it into practice (cf. Mt. 5-7). For Matthew, one must avoid living an outward and exhibitionistic practice like some Pharisees, but attain the spirit of the Law, which is the Father’s will, as Christ demonstrated in chapter 5 verse 20.
Within this horizon of Matthew, Joseph is placed as an example of a faithful disciple; that is, model of a true Christian disciple. In Matthew 1:18-25, the figure of Joseph is vested with the essential virtues, becoming by anticipation, a true disciple of the Kingdom of heaven. First, in Matthew 1:19, Joseph is referred to as “just.” Here, Matthew presents the will and action of the righteous Joseph as being inspired by God. Everything he does is an expression of his faithfulness (justice) to God. Joseph discovers God’s will even in the midst of doubts and uncertainties, however, without giving up the willingness to be faithful to Him in everything. Thus, being just, in the case of Joseph, means being an exemplary disciple, all centered on God. Again in Matthew 1:20, Joseph is approached by the Angel of the Lord in the dream. Here, we see the attitude of the human being in the process of listening to the voice of God resulting to a change in mentality. Thus, Joseph embraces the divine proposal without fear: “Joseph, waking up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and received his wife” (Mt 1:24).
Put in other words, after the receptivity (sleep-dream), Joseph’s humble and effective activity follows. No other action is inserted between the divine order and its execution, as it passes from listening to the Word to its immediate realization. Thus, he becomes a foreshadowing of the New Testament “righteous man,” who listens to the Word of God and puts it into practice. Joseph acts by free choice, which shows the divine transcendence that respects human freedom. He understands the will of God and acts as an authentic disciple, practicing it without hesitation. In the light of the preceding, Pope Paul VI affirms; “that Saint Joseph is the proof of a good and authentic follower of Christ, great things are not necessary, but common, human, simple virtues are sufficient, as long as they are true and authentic” (Homily of 3/19/1969). Following the example of Saint Joseph, “God expects from every Christian, a faithful and generous correspondence to His will, a faithful commitment to those natural and supernatural gifts that He gave to each one,” as Pope Pius XI said in his homily of March 19, 1928. In fact, Saint Joseph is the model of an authentically true and simple human life, and in his school there were innumerable generations of saints who were formed.
From his examples come examples of love, of patience, of sacrifice, of hard work, of fatherhood, of silence, of co-worker to the purposes of God, of sanctification of daily life for all Christians. Thus, these examples that spring from Saint Joseph’s life, must be a continuing school for Christians. Therefore, Joseph is that authentic disciple of Christ, a model for the entire Matthean community, and even today, an example for the whole Church. The attitude of listening and adhering to the will of God as saint Mathew portrays, began with Saint Joseph, so that, like him, we too can listen and adhere to God’s will and become authentic disciples of Christ.
• Rev. Fr. Jeffery Akhalu, OSJ, Associate Priest, St. Cecilia Catholic Church, Aiyegbusi, Ibadan Archdiocese.