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Head of the household – service, not domination

Q: Archbishop J, St Joseph, “Head of God’s household”: How?

One of the titles of Mary is Mother of God (Theotokos). This title allowed the early Church to settle the doctrine about the dual nature of Christ—human and divine. Mary is not just the mother of the human Jesus; she is the mother of all of Him, who is true God and true man. So, she is mother of God.

In the legal structure of Israel, Joseph became the father of Jesus once he was obedient to the command of the angel: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mt 2:20). If Mary is mother of God, then Joseph is legally his father and thus head of God’s household.

Think of St Joseph’s role as father. He provided for, protected, and guided the Holy Family through perilous times. In this role, twice he saved Jesus from certain doom; first, by taking Mary as his wife and then obediently taking the child to Egypt to protect Him from Herod.


Biblical Typology

In the Bible, typology is one ancient way of understanding the text. Here, Joseph the Patriarch, the Old Testament figure, is a type of St Joseph. A type is a way of seeing more fully the reality in the New Testament.

In the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham is a type for God and Isaac a type for Jesus. Each allows the modern reader to see hidden mysteries that were not seen fully in the Old Testament stories. The love of the father for Abraham, opens up reflection on the love of the Father for His Son Jesus.

To see the Patriarch as a type of St Joseph is to see the connections between these two biblical figures. Both the Patriarch and St Joseph are instructed by dreams (Mt 1:20, Gen 41). Both went to Egypt in ominous circumstances.

Joseph the Patriarch provided food for Israel’s household (Gen 42: 33). And God made him (Joseph) father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt (Gen 45:11).

Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt, gave them property and provided them with food, according to the number of their children (Gen 47:11,12). The Patriarch was also head of God’s household.

God used both the Patriarch and St Joseph to accomplish His plan by changing the fortunes of both men, by leading them from a place of disaster to a source of blessing they could not have imagined: The Patriarch to provide for Israel, God’s household; St Joseph to be head of God’s household here on earth.


Head of Household

St Joseph, the quiet humble man, illustrates St Paul’s teaching on marriage and the family. Speaking to the role of men, St Paul says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph 5:25–28).

What is asked of the husband is radical humility, self-emptying and a disposition of humble service. Christ loved His Church by sacrificing Himself for her. He gave everything in His death on the cross.

This self-sacrificing of Christ, is completely opposite to the cultural views of husbands and their “rights”. This is a point of major confusion in the modern family, on which St Joseph can shed light. As head of the household, he served humbly, he gave generously, he poured out his life as a libation for Mary and Jesus.

When we hear the husband is the head of the household, we often think domination. This has never been the intention of the Scriptures or the Church. Joseph was the spiritual head of the household. He was a man of Torah. A man versed in the law who would have taught Jesus the Torah as a boy.

Joseph provided for the family. He was a tekton, working in stone and wood and masonry. By his work he would have ensured the Holy Family had what was required for its upkeep.

Joseph was the protector of the Holy Family, protecting them from danger and death so many times along the journey.

The role of the husband is to die to himself in selfless love, to serve his wife and children. This is a much harder task than obedience which is the call of the wife.

In dying to himself, the husband puts his wife and children ahead of himself and before his needs. This is the self-sacrifice to which St Paul calls all husbands. Here, too, we see Joseph as model husband, head of God’s household.

The whole of the section on the instruction to Christian households needs to be interpreted through the first line: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5: 21).

The beginning is not the wife submitting to the husband, or the husband submitting to the wife, but rather both husbands and wives submitting to each other in reverence to Christ. What does this mean?

Too often in human relations we play the domination game. This ends in a win/ lose situation. Someone wins and someone loses. What is proposed in the Pauline text is that both husband and wife bend their will to Christ. In this bending of the will, they both seek God’s will in every situation.

What is being recommended is a model of discernment, as a way of living family. What does God want here? In this model both husband and wife should be tripping over each other trying to serve the other first.

Here we see one of the great challenges of all relationships and of the marriage relationship in particular. Why do we believe domination, power and control are models that Christians should use to build a family?


Key Message:
St Joseph is head of God’s household. The role of Joseph the Patriarch helps us to appreciate the role of St Joseph, protector of the Holy Family.

Action Step:
Review your significant relationships. Do you use control and domination, or service and discernment, as the model of your relationships?

Scripture Reading:
Ephesians 5: 21–33