Though little is known about Saint Joseph, and still less extrapolated, there is something profoundly important in our remembering him: he is the quiet figure standing in the background of salvation history, one whose greatest role is simply being there.
He is there for Mary, an honourable man who refuses to abandon her to certain disgrace and possible death when she is found to be pregnant and unmarried. He is there at Jesus’ birth and leads the Holy Family into exile in Egypt. He is there when Jesus makes his premature debut as a public intellectual at twelve in the Temple. And, just as the canonical gospels tell us no more of Jesus’ childhood and youth, sweeping us into his public ministry, Joseph disappears from the picture. From what we know of him, loyal and protective that he is, we can be certain that he does not abandon Mary and Jesus, but dies. In an age of widespread marital disarray, divorce, and single parent families, his example of fidelity is a challenge to all parents.
In another sense, he is also a model of the anonymous disciple, the follower who never gains, let alone claims, the limelight. He is everyone who does his or her job without making the 8pm news.
Both before and after 1994, we saw him in the millions of South Africans who tried to live a normal life in situations varying from hardship to chaos. He – and more often that not ‘Joseph’ was also she – battled to earn a living and offer a semblance of ordinary family life. Before 1994 s/he was often misunderstood as a ‘collaborator’ for not being on the barricades of at the negotiations tables in Kempton Park. After 1994, where millions of ‘Josephs’ queued for hours to vote in the Election, s/he was once more relegated to the shadows of ‘normality’ as politicians strutted their stuff in parliament, where ‘experts’ pontificated in front of cameras and in board rooms and factories where the new and old elites divided up the spoils of victory.
Will ‘Joseph’ vote in 2019? Or will s/he decide that a day’s paid leave offers more important things to do than once again elect the same celebrities who have to a large degree not made much difference to Joseph’s life. ‘Joseph’, if you’re reading this, please vote: just as your role model never gave up on Mary and Jesus, don’t give up on our democracy.
Reflection prepared by Anthony Egan SJ & Matthew Charlesworth SJ
My name is Barnabas Sibusiso Nqindi, rector of St Barnabas-Bluff. I enjoy a good debate and I love to see people grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ