St. Joseph the Worker

Ever since I worked in a Jesuit parish in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya called Mtakatifu Yosefu Mfanyakazi, or St. Joseph the Worker, I have been drawn to this aspect of the foster father of Jesus.  Of course we know little about him, other than the little that the Gospels tell us.  Joseph is given no lines to speak at all in the Gospels.  Yet his "work" though hidden, was important. 


His "hidden life" was a time spent caring for his son—-or to put it more precisely, his "foster son"—-and teaching him the trade of carpentry.  (The Greek word used in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew is tekton, which can be variously translated as "craftsman" or "woodworker," but is traditionally rendered as "carpenter.") In Joseph's workshop in Nazareth, Jesus would have learned about the raw materials for his craft: which wood was best suited for chairs and tables, which worked best for yokes, for ploughs.  An experienced Joseph would have taught his apprentice the right way to drive a nail with a hammer, the proper way to drill a clean and deep hole in a plank, the correct way to level a ledge or lintel.


Undoubtedly, Joseph would have passed on to Jesus the values required to become a good carpenter.  You need patience (for waiting until the olive wood is dry and ready), judgement (for ensuring that your plumb line is straight), honesty (for charging people a fair price) and persistence (for sanding until the tabletop is smooth to the touch).  Alongside his teacher, a young Jesus labored and built, contributing all the while to the common good of Nazareth and the surrounding towns.  And is it too difficult to imagine that the skills Jesus learned from his teacher-—patience, judgement, honesty and persistence—would serve him well in his later ministry?  Joseph helped to fashion Jesus into what the theologian John Haughey, S.J., called "the instrument most needed for the salvation of the world."   


As a father, Joseph would have been one of his son's primary teachers in his religious faith as well.  Introducing him to the great men and women of the Scriptures, teaching him the Hebrew prayers, preparing him for his bar mitzvah, encouraging his boy to listen to the rabbis and religious leaders of the town.  And talking to him about God.  Children and adolescents are usually bursting with questions about God.  It is probable that Joseph was the first one who Jesus went to with his questions.  So Jesus's understanding of God the Father, his Father, may have been shaped not only by Joseph's own life, but by Joseph's answers to his questions.  Joseph's faith was one of the foundations of Jesus's faith.

James Martin, SJ

Also, here's a little video about St. Joseph the Worker and his hidden life, from the DVD "Who Cares about the Saints?"

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 8 months ago
A prayer To St Joseph used by Retrouvaille a Catholic program for troubled marriages' Prayer to Saint Joseph Based on Matthew 1:18-25 We ask your prayers, St. Joseph, an upright man, a spouse who planned to divorce Mary in secret and who by God's grace was able to see his role in God's plan. We ask you in our behalf to pray to God that our marriage be healed. We are enveloped in pain and despair as you must have been when you learned of Mary's pregnancy. Be for and with us, Joseph, in our hour of doubt. Let us listen to and heed the voice of God as you did. Be our intercessor to your Jesus, to give us the blessings to change, to listen, to forgive and most of all to hope that our marriage will heal and our family remain whole and holy. We give you honor, quiet St. Joseph, for you are a spouse like us, who while knowing pain, did not divorce. By God's grace you nourished the Holy Family and the Savior of all families throughout the ages. Amen.
9 years 8 months ago
A beautiful reflection, not only about Joseph and Jesus, but also about the positive influence all fathers can have on their sons (and daughters). Silent Joseph spoke volumes about himself by the kind of man his Son became.
9 years 8 months ago
Thank you, Father Martin.


The latest from america

In cities across the country, local activists marched in support of a progressive agenda centered on economic justice, racial justice and immigrant rights.
Brandon SanchezJanuary 20, 2019
Pope Francis has suppressed the Ecclesia Dei Commission, a significant decision with consequences for the Holy See’s relations with the priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 19, 2019
Photo: IMDB
A new Netflix miniseries brings out the story’s aspects of adventure and conflict, with occasionally pulse-pounding results.
Rob Weinert-KendtJanuary 19, 2019
Protestors march to support a U.N. anti-corruption commission in Guatemala City on Jan. 6. Photo by Jackie McVicar.
“What they are doing not only puts Guatemala at risk but the entire region. Bit by bit, for more than a year, they have been trying to divide us. The elections are at risk. We are six months away.”
Jackie McVicarJanuary 18, 2019