Words on the Word

St Joseph the Worker

Matthew 13.54-58: Is this not the carpenter’s son?

The feast day of ‘St Joseph the Worker’ has been instrumentalised in support of many good causes and in aid of some more dubious causes.

At times it has been used as a means by which to politicise the Gospel. That is a slippery slope. Not because the societal order, the polis of which we are part, lies beyond God’s redemptive work or the Christian’s task. On the contrary, we’re called to sanctify society by the way we are and act in it; we are called to order the world in such a way that all may live worthily.

The problem is that we, when we turn faith into a project of welfare, easily forget what the whole thing is about. We think of ourselves as decisive agents — our outlook becomes horizontal and we end up, to speak in Biblical terms, ‘forgetting God’.

We cannot take Joseph hostage to this sort of enterprise. His life and sovereign silence are oriented vertically.

When we honour Joseph as ‘worker’, it cannot just be about an effort to feel affirmed in the work we do ourselves.

In the Litany of St Joseph, Joseph is referred to as a ‘patriarch’. The patriarchs of the Old Testament were shepherds one and all. The wilderness, the broad plains were their element; so was the camp fire round which they sat and spoke of God’s faithfulness in their and their fathers’ lives.

The patriarch of the New Testament, by contrast, is a carpenter. His is an urban calling. It is in cities large and small that houses are built to last and to be furnished — for the Bible does not feature the little house on the prairie: it belongs to a different cultural setting.

Joseph represents the forming of fellowship, a society that has at last found its place of belonging and is no longer constantly on the move. The synodal call to movement is a means to an end. Our final call is a call to come home; and it is home the city stands for.

It is significant that Scripture lets human history begin, in Genesis, in a wonderful garden, but that the history ends, towards the last chapter of the Apocalypse, in a city.

Joseph, Protector of the Saviour, reminds is that our goal is within reach. He reminds us that we are called to flourish, and that flourishing results, not so much from what we go around saying as from what we do to enable communion, service, security.

I do not doubt that Joseph’s artisanship was beautiful. In his arms he carried the Origin of beauty. May we, following him whom we call our patriarch, likewise work beautifully in the city of God, which is our city, too.

We are called to found our city, our lives, on the Lord’s peace, a peace not of this world. Let us make sure that peace infuses all our doings, from the most sublime to do the most everyday. Amen.