Q: Archbishop J, tell me truthfully, why St Joseph? (Pt. II)
St Joseph is an obedient man. He obeys God and, in this way, opens salvation history. I hardly got the words out of my mouth when I was interrupted, “O B E D I E N C E! Don’t talk to me about obedience. That is the cause of all our modern trouble. Look at Hitler in Germany! It was obedience that killed six million Jews. Look at slavery; it was obedience to the master that kept that institution going. Look at domestic violence, and the obedience that keeps the woman in that terrible place where she is abused. Not obedience! Humility yes, obedience no.” We spoke for quite a while on this conundrum.
My interlocutor had raised a fundamental question about St Joseph and Caribbean manhood. Which do we promote? Obedience or humility? First and foremost, was St Joseph a man of obedience or a man of humility? Which of these should be the primary quality of Caribbean masculinity?
Joseph a man of humility
St Joseph was a humble man; this we know from the Bible. From the genealogy of St Matthew and St Luke, we know that St Joseph was of the royal house of David. This means he was of the lineage of the kings of Israel. In Israel, at the time, Herod, an Edomite, who was raised a Jew, sat on the throne having been installed by the Romans. He was not of the lineage of David and had no claim to the throne, yet he lived in the palace.
St Matthew (13:55) calls Joseph a tekton. The English translation ‘carpenter’ is a very poor translation. The tekton worked in all sorts of materials—wood, stone, masonry. Tekton covered a wide range of employment, from the skilled master craftsman to the handyman. We do not know enough to say in which part of the range Joseph fell. What we do know is that the Holy Family was a poor family.
At the time of the purification, they offered “a pair of doves or two young pigeons” (Lk 2:22-24). Leviticus 5:7 says: “If, however, he cannot afford a lamb, he may bring to the Lord as restitution for his sin two turtledoves or two young pigeons”. St Joseph was a poor man; he could not afford the customary offering of the lamb. A princely man, father of God’s son, but a poor man. A man of great dignity, but not of wealth. In every way, a humble man.
It takes great humility to raise a child that is not yours; to accept that your wife is pregnant, but not for you, and still take her as your wife. Jesus recommends humility and describes Himself as humble. “Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29). Joseph was a humble man who raised a humble son.
Joseph a Man of Obedience
What is most striking in the biblical account is Joseph’s obedience to God Twice God visited Joseph, and twice he changed his course of action and did God’s will. In taking Mary home as his wife, Joseph was obedient to God. He followed God’s directive (Mt 1:24), as in the escape into Egypt (Mt 2:14). Both of these were tough decisions. In the first instance, pride was involved; in the second, faith and trust. My interlocutor was right: obedience is a hard sell for the Caribbean male. But it is a vital virtue.
St Thomas Aquinas sees obedience as a cardinal virtue, which is connected to justice—giving people what is due. It is vital for “the common good”. Religious obedience is not servitude. It is not being a doormat; it should never violate your conscience and must always serve a noble cause. Obedience is a cardinal virtue.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they gave way to both pride and disobedience, rebellion in both heart and in actions. St Irenaeus says, “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith”. This was picked up in the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium (56). The whole of salvation history hangs on Mary’s ‘yes’, and it also hangs on Joseph’s ‘yes’ to God as we have seen above. This is why Joseph has a unique and very exalted title, ‘Saviour of our Saviour’.
Humility or Obedience?
On that night in the garden, Jesus sweated blood and tears. Then He said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). On this one moment, the whole of salvation pivoted. It was obedience that won the day.
The three solemn vows or ‘evangelical counsels’—chastity, poverty and obedience—are seen as the perfect way. Yet, they cannot be lived without humility. In the ‘Our Father’, we say: “Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. This is obedience. Romans 5:18 says: “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” That righteous act was a matter of obedience.
It is the Letter to the Philippians that gives the best perspective: “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). Obedience is the vehicle for humility. It is the act or practice that allows for the state of humility. No obedience, no humility; no humility, no obedience.
Both humility and obedience are integral to St Joseph and Caribbean manhood.
Reflect on your reaction to obedience and humility. Ask St Joseph to guide you to humble obedience, like his Son’s.
Philippians 2: 1-11