Saint Joseph: saint of the nameless, the powerless and the workers

Besides the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) that represent the intelligentsia of the faith, as true theologians of the figure of Jesus, there is a vast apocryphal literature (texts that are not officially recognized) that also carry, among other things, the name of gospel, such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the History of Joseph, the Carpenter, which we will discuss here. They have not been officially accepted because they were not consistent with the prevalent orthodoxy of the second and third Centuries, when most of them appeared. They obey the logic of the imagination and fill the information void of the canonical Gospels, especially about the occult life of Jesus. But they have been of great importance to the arts, especially during the Renaissance, and in popular culture in general. Today’s theology, with its new methods of interpreting the Bible, also values them.

The apocryphal book, The History of Joseph, The Carpenter, (La historia de Jose, el carpintero, Edicion Vozes, 1990), is rich with data about Jesus and Joseph. In reality it is a long narrative that Jesus offers to the Apostles about Joseph, His father. Jesus begins: «Listen now: I will tell you the life of my father, Joseph, the blessed old carpenter».

And Jesus says that Joseph was a carpenter, a widower, with six children, four boys (Santiago, Joseph, Simon and Judas) and two girls (Lisia and Lidia). «That Joseph is my father, as if by the flesh, who got together, as spouse, with my mother Mary».

The Gospel relates Joseph’s disturbance when he found that Mary was pregnant without his participation. It also narrates the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the flight to Egypt and the return to Galilee. It finishes by saying: «My father Joseph, the blessed old man, continued working at his profession as a carpenter and that way, with the labor of his hands, we could be maintained. Let it never be said of him that he ate his bread without working».

Speaking of himself, Jesus says: «I myself called Mary, “my mother” And Joseph, “my father”. I obeyed them in everything they ordered me to do, without ever daring to talk back even one word to them. To the contrary, I always treated them with great love».

Continuing, Jesus relates that Joseph married for the first time when he was 40 years old. He was married for 49 years until his wife died. He was then 89 years old. He was a widower for one year. From his marriage with Mary to the birth of Jesus three years would have passed. Joseph, then, would have been 93 years old. He was married to Mary for 18 years. Adding this up, Joseph would have died at 111 years of age.

Later on, he narrates in detail that his father «lost the desire to eat and to drink; he felt that he had lost the ability to perform his work». When the death was near, Joseph lamented, hurling eleven cries. In that moment, Jesus entered the room and reveals Himself as the great Consoler. Jesus says: «Salve, Joseph, my beloved father, old, kind-hearted and blessed». To which Joseph replies: «Salve, a thousand times, dear son. Listening to Your voice my soul regained its tranquility». Then, Joseph recalled moments of his life with Mary and with Jesus; even recalling that once «he had pulled His ear and admonished Him: ‘be prudent, my son’» because He was mischievous at school and had provoked the rabbi.

Jesus then shares this confidence: «When my father spoke those words to me, I could not contain the tears and began to cry, seeing that death was overtaking him». «I, beloved Apostles, was by his head and my mother at his feet… for a long time I held his hands and his feet. He looked at me, pleading with me that we not abandon him. I put my hand on his chest and felt that his soul had already risen to his throat, preparing to leave his body».

Seeing that death was slow in coming, Jesus made a strong prayer to the Father: «Dear Father merciful, Father of truth, eye who sees and ear who listens, listen to me: I am your beloved son, I plead with you for my father Joseph, the work of your hands… Be merciful with the soul of my father Joseph when he goes to rest in your hands, because that is the moment when he needs your mercy most». «After he had exhaled the spirit and I had kissed him; I went over the body of my father Joseph… closed his eyes, closed his lips, and stood up to contemplate him». Joseph had just died.

In the burial Jesus shares another confidence with the Apostles: “I could not contain myself, and hurled Myself over his body and cried for a very long time”. Jesus ends up taking stock of the life of Joseph, His father:

“His life was of 111 years. At the end of such a long time he did not have a single tooth with cavities, and his sight was not weakened. All his appearance was like that of a child. He never suffered any physical discomfort. He continuously worked at his trade as a carpenter until the day when the illness happened that would take him to the grave”.

At the end of his account, Jesus leaves the following mandate: “when you are empowered by my strength and have received the Holy Spirit and are sent to preach the Gospel, also preach about my beloved father Joseph”. The book that I wrote about Saint Joseph, after 20 years of research, tries to respond to the mandate of Jesus.

To tell the truth, Joseph was almost forgotten by the official Church. But the people kept his memory alive, giving the name of Joseph to their sons and daughters, to cities, streets and schools. Joseph is the symbol of the nameless, the powerless, the workers, and the Church of the anonymous.

Leonardo BoffEco-Theolo gian-PhilosopherEarthcharter Commission

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,

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