In the middle of the Lenten season, we lift up today in joyful prayer and thanksgiving the model of Joseph, the husband of Mary, who was Jesus’ father during his earthly life.
There are very few stories of Joseph in our scriptures, his life barely visible to us from between lines of the Gospels. Much of who he was is left to our imagination. As I consider him today, I see that Joseph was an ordinary man living in extraordinary times. He was a worker, a person of faith. He was preparing for his own life plans and big celebrations, threshold experiences – marriage, family. He was filled with dreams and imaginings of what his own life would look like through the future. I imagine that he was crushed, disappointed, and felt betrayed, when he found that the future could not come to pass exactly as he imagined it would: the vision of marriage and family, of a typical, ordinary life, must have felt far beyond his reach when he first heard that Mary was pregnant.
As I imagine Joseph, I see him close to my own heart, troubled by the ways that the current COVID-19 crisis continues to change the expectations of our lives. Like Joseph, this event asks that we release expectations of our present and the futures we had imagined for ourselves. For me, my travel plans to visit loved ones have been cancelled; I don’t have the capacity to worship in the ways that I typically find nourishing; the familiar sense of my vocation and work seems to be out of reach; and I worry about vulnerable folks that I know and love. For many of us, the vision we had for how we would spend our time, and the kind of life we would build in the days ahead, seem to be far off. The future feels uncertain and we feel vulnerable. Like Joseph, our dreams for ourselves are changing.
Yet, as Joseph’s own dreams seem to be crumbling, he hears an invitation to a new dream from God, which gives him the capacity to move in a new way for the future when he awakens. The dream begins like this: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.” These words call to me through the scriptures, offering me insights into who God is and who God calls us to be:
- God first calls Joseph by name: says to him – I know, personally, and love you. Can we hear God calling us by name today? Enfolding us in love?
- God reminds Joseph that he is the son of David, who is his ancestor in faith. Today’s readings are full of stories of Joseph’s ancestor’s in faith, who through many generations, “believed, hoping against hope,” that God can bring new life and hope into our world. In these days, how can we honor and remember that we are part of a long line of hope-filled, faithful people, who through many generations have hoped in the power, the guiding light, the healing mercy, and the abundant love of God? Perhaps there are people in our own family and friends that we can look up to, who have weathered hardship and found community, faith, connection, and hope. Or perhaps there are role models in faithfully facing adversity that we admire from history. Today our Church lifts up St. Joseph as one such person. How will we learn from the lives of those who have gone before us? How are we called today to be part of a lineage of love for future generations, continuing to look towards the present and the future with eyes of hope, so that our descendants in faith will believe that they too can stand firm in the face of fear and crisis?
- God says to Joseph “do not be afraid.” When I hear these words, I think of the many times Jesus said these same words to his disciples, inviting them into a life of faith and trust in God. I wonder if these words from the dream planted so deeply in Joseph’s heart as words of comfort and peace. If he said these words to Jesus throughout his childhood, just as many parents today try to whisper it into the ears and hearts of their children. Fear might be our natural response to these days. Throughout scriptures, God desires to banish fear from our lives, and invites us into living courageously in troubled times, trusting in God’s abiding care for us. What would it look like for us to face our current reality with courage and compassion? How can we ask God for help in navigating our fears and frustrations? How would we like to entrust our lives and the world to God’s care in these days?
In these troubling days, in these Lenten days, let us pause to celebrate and remember this holy ancestor in faith. Let us learn from the story of Saint Joseph, an ordinary person living in extraordinary times, who, as the landscape of his own dreams and future changed, believed that God’s loving dream for us continues, and that God always invites us, in every age, to be people of faithful hope. Let us pray for the capacity to listen deeply to God’s dream for us, and for the grace to wake up and respond in courage and trust.