Two Gospels for St. Joseph

For the feast of St. Joseph, there are two options for the gospel readings. The first option is Matthew’s narrative about the birth of Jesus. The second option is Luke’s narrative of the teen Jesus and his visit to the Temple.


Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a

Popular Translation

16 Jacob was the father of Joseph. He was the husband of Mary who gave birth to Jesus the Christ.

18 This is what happened when Jesus was born. 18 When Mary found out she was pregnant by the power of God's Spirit, she was already engaged to Joseph. 19 He was a good man and he didn't want to embarrass her in public. 20 So, Joseph decided to end their engagement in private.

20 During the time Joseph was thinking about his decision, one of God's angels appeared to him in a dream. "Joseph, son of King David," the angel said to him. "Don't be afraid to make Mary your wife. She got pregnant by the power of God's Spirit! 21 She will have a son. And you will call him 'Jesus' because he will save people from their sins."

24 After Joseph woke up, he did what God's angel wanted him to do. He made Mary his wife.

Literal Translation

16 Jacob fathered Joseph, the husband of Mary from whom JESUS, the (ONE) called the CHRIST, was born.

18 Now, the birth of JESUS (the) CHRIST happened this way. After his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they lived together, she was found, having with child from (the power of) the Holy Spirit. 19 But Joseph, her husband, being righteous and not wishing to shame Mary (in public) planned to divorce her in private. 20 But, as he reflected on these (situations), Look! an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David! Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife! For the (BOY) having been conceived in her is by means of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a SON and you will name him ‘JESUS,’ since HE will save HIS people from their sins.”

24 Having gotten up from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and he took (Mary as) his wife, 25 and he did not know her (in a sexual sense) until (the time) which she bore a SON. He gave HIM the name of “JESUS.”

1:16 “Jesus, the one called the Christ” At the time of Jesus, lineage among the Jews did not depend on physical descent, but on legal recognition. When a father named his son at the child’s circumcision, then the child was recognized as the father’s son and his legal heir. With a grammatical slight of hand, Matthew was able to maintain his theme that Jesus was a son of David and son of Abraham through Joseph, while also maintaining the virgin birth.

1:18 “before they lived together” is literally “before they came together.” Mary was promised to Joseph in an arranged marriage (i.e., betrothal), but he had not taken her into his home (the actual marriage ritual). Hence, “came together” meant cohabitation, not sexual intercourse.

“with child” is literally “in (the) womb.”

1:19 “righteous” can refer to moral character (“righteous man”) or religious observance (“righteous Jew”). If Joseph was a “righteous man,” he had pity on Mary and wished to spare her public humiliation. If he was a “righteous Jew” and followed the Law, he was bound by religious duty to end the relationship. Either meaning is possible; both meaning infer compassion on Mary.

“divorce her in private” did not mean he ended the betrothal quietly. Keeping Mary’s condition secret in a small community dominated by clans would have been impossible. It meant that he would not press charges of adultery against Mary. Thus, he wished to spare her the official title of adulterer and its outcast status.

1:21 This passage combined a Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14 (‘she will bear a son’ from the Septuagint) and Psalm 130:8 (‘he will save his people Israel from their sins’). The latter part of the sentence (‘he will save...’) explained his name. Ancient people believed a name revealed the character and inner power of the person. The angel commanded Joseph to name the boy ‘Jesus’ because of his function in God’s plan.

When Matthew stated Jesus would “save his people from their sins,” he did not imply Christ would stop people from sinning. Salvation meant the restoration of God’s relationship with humanity. With the birth of Jesus, God was with his people.

1:23 This verse has two parts: 1) Matthew’s adaptation of Isaiah 7:14 and 2) a clause that explains the name “Emmanuel.” Matthew quoted Isaiah 7:14 from the Septuagint. But he made one change. “you will call him...” became “they will call him...” The change shifted the focus from name (“you” being the father who named the child) to reputation (“they” being the people who would react to Jesus).

The term “virgin” had a broader meaning in the time of Jesus than a female who had never had intercourse. A virgin was simply a young girl of marrying age.

The passage for the birth of Jesus can be divided into three parts: 1) the dilemma over the pregnancy, 2) the dream, 3) the birth of Jesus. Mary’s pregnancy presented Joseph with few options; as a “righteous” Jew he wished to follow the Law, save personal face, and still have compassion on his betrothed. But the dream changed his mind. Like his name sake in the Old Testament, Joseph received God’s will in his sleep. Many cultures hold dreams as a conduit to the divine will; the key to the dream was proper interpretation, for such would reveal God’s intent. Not only did Matthew portray the scene in Old Testament terms, he reinforced the scene with Scripture. How did Joseph really know the message came from God? How could neophytes believe in the virgin birth? The quotation from Isaiah gave the answer. While Isaiah only referred to a teenaged girl expecting a birth, Matthew (along with Luke) presented the impossible; a virgin birth was the means for God to live among his people!

In Matthew, St. Joseph was an active witness to the fulfillment of God’s promise. How can we be active witnesses to God’s activity in life?


Luke 2:41-51a

Popular Translation

41 Every year, Joseph and Mary used to travel to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they took him to Jerusalem for the festival. 43 After the family celebrated Passover, Joseph and Mary started home. But, the young boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem and his parents didn't realize it. 44 Joseph and Mary thought Jesus tagged along with the travel party. So they looked for him among their family and friends. 45 When they didn't find him, Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem to look for him there.

46 Three days later, Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the Temple sitting with some religious teachers. He listened to what they taught and asked them questions. 47 Everyone who heard Jesus was surprised at his bright answers.

48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. "Child, why did you do this to us?" his mother scolded Jesus. "Listen! Your father and I searched for you everywhere. We were worried about you!"

49 "Why did you spend all your time looking for me?" Jesus answered. "Didn't you know I needed to be in my Father's house, doing what my Father wants me to do?" 50 They didn't understand his answer. 51 But his mother thought a lot about everything that happened.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned home to Nazareth. There, obeying his parents, 52 Jesus grew in wisdom and physical size. He pleased God and the people more and more.

Literal Translation

41 Every year, HIS parents (used to) travel to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. 42 When HE became twelve years (old), after (Joseph and Mary) went up according to the festival custom 43 and after (Joseph and Mary) finished the days (of celebration), when (Joseph and Mary) were returning, the young boy JESUS remained in Jerusalem and his parents did not know (about the situation). 44 Having supposed HE was among the caravan group, (Joseph and Mary) went a day (on) the road and they were looking for HIM among relatives and acquaintances. 45 Having not found (him), they returned to Jerusalem, seeking HIM.

2:41 "Every year, his parents (used to) travel . . . " The phrase "every year" and the tense of the verb "traveled" indicated a customary action or family tradition.

2:42-43 These two verses comprise one long sentence. The sentence can be divided in the following way:

"When he became twelve years (old) . . . " This clause sets up the action for the sentence. This detail indicated Jesus reached the age of adulthood, when he could exercise his religious rights as a "son of the Law."

"after (Joseph and Mary) went up according to the festival custom and after (Joseph and Mary) finished the days (of celebration)" These two clauses refer to the family tradition of Passover celebration in 1:41

"when (Joseph and Mary) were returning" This verb tense changed the flow of the sentence from traditional habit (the yearly Passover celebration) to the coming crisis (Jesus was missing). While the previous clauses looked back to 1:41, this clause looks forward to the main verbs of the sentence ("Jesus remained in Jerusalem" and "his parents didn't know about it")

2:44 "Having supposed he was among the caravan" this clause referred to Joseph and Mary's lack of knowledge in 2:43.

"they were looking for him among relatives and acquaintances" The tense of the verb meant Joseph and Mary made an ongoing search among family and friends.

2:45 "seeking him" This clause gave the reason for their return to Jerusalem.

Luke used an account in the infancy narrative to bridge from the old to the new, from the people's daily traditions to the realization of God's Son. In the set up of the account, Luke stressed continuity with Jewish tradition within a family. Joseph and Mary traveled with their clan to Jerusalem for Passover. The capital had the one place where the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob definitely dwelt: the Temple. The importance of the city and its Temple gave a focal point to Jewish spirituality. Both realized the fulfillment of God's promise to Father Abraham for a nation and its land. The family tradition of pilgrimage reinforced the Jewish spiritual focus. Joseph and Mary walked, like their Exodus ancestors, to a place that symbolized Judaism's history and aspirations. The pilgrimage had spiritual overtones, but so did its end point.

Luke mixed images of Jesus in the narrative. At first, Luke introduced Jesus as a young man, a "son of the Law" who had all the rights and the obligations of an adult male. As such, Jesus accompanied Joseph and Mary to the festival in Jerusalem. Yet, when Jesus stayed behind, Luke referred to him as a "young boy," a term that had overtones of enslavement. Whom was he enslaved to? The answer would come later in the narrative.

The search for Jesus heightened the tension between the image of the "son of the Law" and the enslaved minor. The Holy Couple sought for Jesus among his clan, where everyone thought his place should be. (Remember that members of his own clan and his townsfolk would later reject Jesus in Luke 4:14-30) The old would define his place within his family. But the new would define the place of Jesus within a new family, with a new Father.

46 It happened (that), after three days, (Joseph and Mary) found (JESUS) in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them, and questioning them. 47 All hearing HIM were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 Having seen him, (Joseph and Mary) were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Child, why did you do (this) to us? Look! Your father and I, feeling hurt, sought you." 49 (JESUS) said to them, "Why (is it) that you looked for ME? Did you not know that it was necessary (for) me to be in the (things) of my Father?" 50 They did not understand the word HE spoke to them. 51 HE went down with them, he went into Nazareth, and he was obedient to them. HIS mother throughly treasured all the (events) in her heart. 52 JESUS progressed in wisdom, (physical) stature, and reputation with God and man.

2:46-47 "in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them, and questioning them." Public teaching was common in the Temple at the time. The flow of the sentence indicated Jesus was a pupil (since he listened first, then inquired) not the teacher. Nonetheless, Luke foreshadowed Jesus' teaching ministry in the Temple with the use of the seated school position (sitting) and the means of learning (discussion in a listening-questioning format). In 2:47, the amazement of everyone there indicated Jesus proved to be the equal of the Temple teachers.

2:49 "in the (things) of my Father" This phrase could be used for place or affairs (or both!). The context of the Temple indicated place ("in my Father's house"). The teaching indicated affairs ("about my Father's business"). Since this phrase foreshadowed Jesus' teaching ministry in the Temple, the ambiguity of the phrase pointed to both meanings.

2:51 "wisdom, (physical) stature, and favor" These three words reveal aspects of Jesus' growth: character, physical size, and social reputation. This verse acted as a bridge between Jesus youth and his adulthood.

Joseph and Mary returned to the place where, according to tradition, the Messiah would be revealed in his glory. This was the second of two narrative accounts in which Luke used the place and the people to emphasize that point. In Luke 2:22-38, the parents presented the child at the Temple. And two prophets proclaimed the Good News that the Messiah had been born.

In this second account, Jesus himself revealed his Messiahship with an enigmatic answer. "Did you not know that it was necessary (for) me to be in the (things) of my Father?" As the note mentioned above, the phrase can refer to place (the Temple) or to affairs (his teaching ministry). In either case, Jesus acted in the role God had given him. While Jesus might have been an enfranchised Jewish male, he, as the only Son of God, was enslaved to the will of his Father. Jesus did not really belong to the clan from Nazareth. He belonged to his true Father. Jesus' place was in the Father's house (i.e., building and family). Jesus' mission was to teach the people the way back to the Father. He amazed the teachers just as he would amaze the people along his mission road. But Joseph and Mary did not understand his reasoning.

The tension between the parents and the child began to fulfill the prophecy Simeon made to Mary and foreshadowed Jesus' death and resurrection. The search caused Mary pain and anxiety (one of the swords that pierced her heart). The climax of the story occurred three days after the celebration of Passover (a foreshadowing of the Resurrection).

Despite the confrontation, Jesus grew in honor (wisdom, size, and reputation). Jesus was a faithful Jew as he honored his parents and obeyed the Fourth Commandment. He existed within the old, the Jewish tradition. But all signs pointed to the new. He was the Messiah. And he would reveal God acting in a new way, with a new people.

How have you seen God act in new ways?