Another Fathers’ Day rolls around, and I wonder about a lot of things even though I am of an age where I should know. I should know, because I have HAD a father and because I already have had quite a few years of BEING a father.
I can remember the day I became a father. Something seismic shifted inside me. I think they call that manning up. When the Bible uses that expression “he set his face like a flint” I think about fatherhood. In the background, there is a voice in your head that says “Out of the way everybody, I’ve got a job to do.” There is a lot to fleshing out of that job, and a lot of validation that comes from a million little things left done or undone. When you meet someone who does not seem solid, you realize there what is missing is likely the father who did not shore things up in the background.
I am contemplating the Year of Saint Joseph, an interesting figure because he is truly the guy in the background. Joseph didn’t get a lot of mention in the Bible. He got some up front advice from the Angels, which he heeded. He fronted some basic decisions and shouldered some things that may have gone the other way, apart from his intervention. The first move, was that he was not afraid to take Mary as his wife despite appearances. His backing placed him as the unseen rock behind the Biblical family that gave us Jesus.
We presume Joseph was older, and I am guessing he was a fairly quiet guy because we rarely hear his voice in the Biblical accounts. If the Bible is our source, Joseph was a stand-in with a job to do.
When I think of the task of fatherhood, I wonder how it would be to raise the Messiah. You would have to check yourself against foolish words, and also be meticulous about your reputation. Presumably, Joseph was also a teacher if we can assume that until the age of thirty Jesus worked with his Dad in the family carpentry business.
I like that Joseph is real-world and hands on. Jesus didn’t get a Pharisee for a dad, who specialized in “yeah but’s” and “what if’s”. He had a real world guy who did real world guy kind of stuff and wasn’t interested in the fluff. Ask any carpenter. Square is square, and crooked is crooked and if you are in doubt, reach for your plumb line or shake out some basic geometry and you will have your answer. Joseph’s work did not require a lot of talk if you think about it. The work itself judged you. You could see from the work whether you were dealing with a solid guy or not.
Hence, the teaching wasn’t complicated but it was firm in the details. Before he started his teaching ministry, Jesus had to prove himself doing real world things that established a reputation for integrity. Otherwise Jesus would be known as the guy who told people what to do but didn’t know how to lay a foundation or hang a straight door. Jesus’ first job involved a lot of driving fasteners for security, and pounding thing in place until they held.
If you think about the incarnation, Word made flesh, required a certain amount of physicality. Honest sweat, a full day’s work, and real world consequences if you screwed up. That’s pretty solid qualifications if you wanted to be the Messiah as signature for your career.
Some arty films have portrayed Jesus as building crosses and that whimsical scenario is pretty unlikely as it does not square with anything Jesus taught about justice and mercy. What Jesus spoke about sprung from what HE was taught from the scriptures and from his earthly Dad. Jesus was all about justice, and not the kind that hung people up to die.
What I like most about Joseph is that he actually went against the letter of the law, to invoke the spirit of the law. I wonder when Jesus spoke on such matters if he remembered his own dad. If Joseph was a righteous man according to the teachings of the law, he would have been the first guy to pick up a stone and cast it at Mary so that he could deflect unkind gossip from himself. But he was unwilling to throw Mary under the bus, and trusted that a larger justice should envelop their family life and carry them over.
By the time Jesus was crucified, his dad was likely dead although the Bible doesn’t tell us that. We don’t hear of Mary going off to old age in the cottage with Joseph at her side. We hear instead about Jesus passing on the baton and charging his youngest apostle with some elder care. In this, I see the image of Joseph, who cared about the future and the practical welfare of his family. Jesus was doing the fatherly thing, even though he himself never became a father.
The image of Joseph looms in the background, and we hear little about him up front. This is perhaps an apt way to think of Fathers’ Day, the guy who does the solid work in the background that allows others to live with some kind of firm foundation beneath them.
A lot of life is a credit to fathers in the background. Their role is an important foundation. Being a father takes up the mantle of duty. I hope I have done mine. In the meanwhile, I am thinking of my own Dad. I hope all the men in Heaven are giving him a good solid thump on the back right about now.