Not very much is known of Saint Joseph or Joseph of Nazareth. All of the information we have is found in the Gospel of Luke and The Gospel of Matthew.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us in the lineage of Jesus that Joseph’s father’s name was Jacob. It is believed Joseph was born somewhere around 90 BC in the town of Bethlehem. Since Joseph was of the lineage of David it is not much of a leap to believe that this was the place of his birth. David the second King of Israel was born and raised in Bethlehem.
Joseph was a carpenter, a craftsman of his time. He, more than likely, was apprenticed in this trade under his father as that was pretty much the custom of the time. When Joseph made his move to Nazareth, where he would meet his future bride Mary, is not known.
The first real fact that we have of Joseph is that he was betrothed to Mary. A betrothal in those days was a very serious thing and was just short of marriage. You did not just end a betrothal as you would an engagement today. There had to be solemn grounds for the breaking of it and it was as serious as a divorcé.
During a betrothal the husband to be would work on the house that he and his wife would live in. He would also save money and arrange for the things his future wife would need. The couple would live separately until all the preparations for the marriage and their future life together were made. But in the eyes of everyone the couple was married except for sexual relations.
During the betrothal period we know from The Gospels that Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she would conceive a son by the power of God. Mary humbly accepted God’s will in this but soon after the angelic visit she went to see her cousin Elizabeth who had conceived a baby through her husband. This child was also miraculous as Elizabeth was considered barren. Mary spent a number on months with Elizabeth and then returned to home.
On arriving back in Nazareth Mary went to Joseph and told him her story. It is here we must pause.
Mary comes to Joseph, maybe while he was working on the house they would share, or in his workshop and tells him that she was going to have a baby and that the baby was God’s. Put yourself in Joseph’s place. Was he angry, did he think Mary was crazy or a liar? He had to have been hurt deeply as he loved Mary. There was no question by now that Mart was indeed pregnant as at this time she would have been showing.
According to Gospel Joseph determined in his heart to send Mary away to have her child. This was a very kind thing to do. According to the law of the time Joseph could have had her stoned to death as this was the punishment both for infidelity and for a woman carrying a child out of wedlock. Joseph chose instead to send her away. God had different plans.
God sent another angel to Joseph in a dream telling him to marry Mary as she was really carrying God’s child. Joseph believes God and marries Mary and not long after Mary’s child would be born in Bethlehem because of the degree that everyone was to return to their home town to register for a new tax. Of course the Child was named Jesus.
Jewish law decreed that each first born was to be dedicated to God and a sacrifice was needed to redeem the child A lamb or two doves were the price of the sacrifice. When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to The Temple Joseph chose the two doves. This was the sacrifice that was demanded for the poor as a lamb was much more expensive. From this we know the family was not wealthy. We also know that a male and female prophet both stop the family and tell them of what awaits the child Jesus and his mother Mary.
It is believed by some that the Family of Jesus Mary and Joseph may have stayed in Bethlehem for up to two years. We know from The Gospel of Matthew that the family had moved from the stable where Jesus was born into a house. We know this because the Wisemen from the east who came to see Jesus saw him in a house.
The Wisemen had told King Herod that a new king had been born in Bethlehem and Herod, fearing for his throne, decides to kill all the male children two years old and younger in Bethlehem. Joseph is warned of this in another dream and takes his family to Egypt before Herod’s soldiers arrive for what is now called The Slaughter of the Innocent.
It is not known precisely how long the family stayed in Egypt. What we do know is that Joseph receives one last dream from God and is told that Herod is dead and it is safe to return home. Joseph takes his family and returns to Nazareth.
There is only one more snapshot of the life of Joseph and the story is told in the Gospel of Luke. It was customary for the family to make the yearly trip to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was 12 the family made the trip but on the return home Mary and Joseph discover the young man missing. They return to Jerusalem and found Jesus discussing the law with the learned men in the temple. Mary questions Jesus as to why he had disappeared from them. Jesus answered that both she and Joseph should have known that he would have been about his Father’s business. It must have been at this point when Joseph finally understood the full truth about his foster son.
After this historians believe that Joseph died at some point before the public ministry of Jesus began.
Joseph was a true man of faith. Believing hard truths that we now take for granted. If it is a boost in faith that we need considering the life of Joseph may give us strength.