Saint Joseph’s silence is famous. It is often said that scripture does not relate a single word that passed from his lips. The Gospels show him to be the faithful and prudent head of the holy family, the chaste husband of Mary, the foster-father of her son, a just man who unflinchingly obeys God’s guidance given in dreams—but we never hear him speak.
How strange, that such a silent man would become the father of the Word.
Saint John relates the eternal origin and identity of this Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” where he was called Jesus, the son of silent Joseph.
Joseph did not create the Word, for the Word is uncreated. He did not beget the Word, for the Word is the only-begotten Son of God the Father. He had no part to play in the incarnation of the Word, for the Word became flesh in the womb of the ever-virgin Mary, who knew not man.
And yet Joseph was truly a father to Jesus, more than just the title “foster-father” may suggest. Saint Matthew’s genealogy relates the human origin and identity of Jesus through Joseph’s genealogy (Mt 1:1-17). Yet after repeating thirty nine generations, from Abraham to Joseph, of fathers begetting sons, the line seems broken in its last link: “… and Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Mt 1:16). This may scandalize us moderns who look to DNA tests for final genealogical judgment, but for the ancient Jews one became a father not only by begetting with seed but also by adoption: the adopted son truly and fully became a part of the adoptive father’s house.
Joseph adopted Jesus as his son when he accepted the paternal prerogative of giving him a name, a name which his Divine Father had given through the angel. So scripture does attribute one word to Joseph: “He took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus” (Mt 1:25).
Jesus’ earthly adoptive-father imitates his heavenly Father. God the Father speaks one Word, Jesus, which contains all that the Father is and makes the Father known. At the command of God, St. Joseph also speaks one word, Jesus, which gives this Word his place among the children of Abraham, the people of Israel, the sons of David, whose hopes he will fulfill. This same Jesus invites and enables each of us by his grace to bring our whole life to speak this same one Word.
Image: Guido Reni, Saint Joseph and the Christ Child