WHERE WAS JOSEPH?
Thoughts on blended families, grief, and the crucifixion.
Blog post, October 4, 2022
I've always had a complicated relationship with blended families. I was an adult when the young son of my roommate at the time told me I had a stepdad. He’d overheard me speak of my mother’s husband and the way that children do, spoke the truth as he saw it, and as it was. It hit me like the prow of a Roman galley, possibly rowed by Judah Ben-Hur.
I have a stepdad.
But I had a dad. A good one. Mostly. (That was complicated too, but in the hands of the Lord, all things are made beautiful in His time.) When I would become a stepparent myself a few years later, I would get to experience the backside of that phenomenon of who are you to me.
At first I was "dad's friend," and then "dad's girlfriend," and then “Nancy." For one of them I am still Nancy. That's okay. I want to always seek to meet my younger son where he is and not where I wish us to be. For my oldest son, I'll never forget the first time I heard him say into his gaming headphones "my parents" and then realizing he was talking about me. Me. I will also never forget the first time he called me his stepmom to one of his friends when he introduced me. You never forget the first time you're called mom. Whether it's someone you birthed or adopted or fostered or stand in the gap for in that role, you never forget.
It was in a hard winter season early in my stepmom life when I heard our Pastor teach on Joseph; Mary's husband, the man standing beside her in the nativity scenes. Pastor opened with we’re going to learn about Joseph, Jesus’s stepdad today.
Wait, what? Hold on, can he do that? Wait, sound doctrine check on aisle 3 please…
and I was right back in my kitchen with my roommate’s son telling me I had a stepdad.
And as I listened to Pastor Tim continue his teaching, not only did I circle back to hey, Pastor's not wrong, but it was a lot like, HE'S NOT WRONG!!!
Joseph was Jesus' stepdad. Full stop.
And suddenly, like the biblical suddenly, I felt a lot less alone and some of the snow started to melt to remind me spring is coming. This is hard right now, but spring is coming, and Joseph understood this pain.
So much of his story is lost to us. So much. Sure, we know him as the unsung hero of the Incarnation of the Christ. He didn't divorce Mary because the angel of the Lord was like, Bro, Mary's with child but fear not, her baby daddy is the Holy Spirit, and she's going to give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.
Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua,which means the Lord saves.
I paraphrased the angel’s message in Joseph’s dream from the gospels real hard. If that offends you, that's okay, but you should probably not read the novel I'm writing right now... Breath & Thunder. You were warned.)
It would be much later that I realized three things, and they are important things.
1. Joseph got the truckload of pain of betrayal and doubt and hurt and perceived unfaithfulness first. He got the pain first, and then the promise. We usually miss that, especially if like me you were raised hearing this story, which is actually a history, every December. Please go reread Matthew 1:18-19 again, and slowly, and don’t roll right into the angel appearing in Joseph’s dream to tell him what’s up.
2. In verse 24, Joseph wakes from his dream, and did as the angel commanded (emphasis mine). He took his wife. Wife. I’d always missed that before, so in awe of the obedience and faith of Mary to give consent with “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And that is a big deal. That is the Annunciation, and as someone raised in the Baptist branch of the family tree of Christianity, I had to go look that up, The Annunciation, and completly understand why that is a day and moment that should be celebrated. But it took two people to say yes to this, and honestly, I believe Joseph had the tougher gig at this point in the coming of God-Man Jesus. If that’s reading as blasphemy to you, that’s okay. But I said what I said.
3. In the fullfilling of prophecy and the promise of the Old Testament, Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham, but through his stepdad Joseph and not through Mary. Some of you are nodding right here because you know. Some of you didn’t make it this far, and I’m sad but I get it. And some of you are about to go fact check me right now and I love that, I really do, so it’s in Matthew 1. But read slowly. SLOWLY and then again. There are some amazing women of the faith named there as well in this lineage. Pay extra attention to verse 16, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. The geneology of Christ from Abraham through David through Jacob, father of Joseph, was in the paternal line. The paternal line, through the man and the parent that contributed nothing apart from obedience and faith.
***Let me be clear, I don’t write this with any kind of intellectual or spiritual superiority. It’s not meant that way to be like, look at Nancy, she knows soooooo much about the Bible. It is because there was a day coming not long after Pastor Tim gave this teaching on Joseph that I would be sitting in a parking lot crying. Ugly crying, because I had just been told to my face by a well-meaning healthcare professional about my son “I can’t tell you anything else because you’re not the parent. Please have his dad call me as soon as possible.”
You’re not the parent.
I was the parent when I had to try to compel him to come to his therapy session.
I was the parent when he didn’t want to go and was so angy that he kicked me.
I was the parent when I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair for an hour begging God to help me because I did not sign up for this. I mean, I had, in the literal sense, but I couldn’t help this kid and he didn’t want my help or anyone’s really, but I’m not the parent. Really?
Tell that to Joseph, son of Jacob, ancestor of King David the shepherd warrior king, ancestor of Father Abraham the father of many nations. Do we tell him he isn’t a real parent? So stepdad or stepmom getting frostbit right now because you’re in the winter season, you matter. You matter and that child of someone you love, if they’re five or fifteen or forty, is part of your legacy and your spiritual work. So don’t believe the lie, especially when your love is getting rejected over and over, that you don’t matter.
Joseph mattered. So do you.
As I write this, into the small hours of the night on Saturday, September 24th, 2022, the song playing on repeat is “Were You There?” by Johnny Cash. The opening lines are powerful.
Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?
We know Mary was there. We know a lot about who was there across the four gospels.
But Joseph wasn’t there. He is never mentioned again in the New Testement after the whole we lost our kid on accident when he was twelve described in Luke Chapter 2 beginning in verse 41. Sometime between Jesus being age twelve, and thirty, when he began his public ministry and our historical accounts resume, known as the quiet years, Joseph slipped away from us. We don’t know how. We don’t know when. But I think I am beginning to understand the why.
Earlier today, I “sacrificed” an entire day of writing to attend an out of town funeral for a dear cousin of mine, who passed unexpectedly. It was important for me to be there, as my spirit was quite stirred about it, and I asked one of my aunts from Houston to drive down with me. We reached the funeral home early because my aunt, my cousin’s mom, wanted her sister with her when she first viewed the body of her son. I had no intention to witness or intrude on that most private of pains and grief. Not because I did not want to be there, but because I felt it would honor my aunt and my cousin to not share that. So I sat in prayer in the lobby, prayer that intensified when I heard the first wails of a mother in the throws of a pain I pray I never fully know. I thought of Mary. I thought of the moment in the film Passion of the Christ when Mary takes the towels from Pilate’s wife and begins to mop up the blood of her son. Of her savior.
Pain first. Then the promise.
And then someone was touching my shoulder. It was my aunt that had ridden from Houston with me, telling me that my other aunt was asking for me. So you go. Because it doesn’t matter what you want when you are being called. So I went to her, and I knelt beside her at the casket, and I wept as she wept and let her hold me as I held her. My cousin had been like a big brother to me in my childhood, and for someone who rarely has to look hard to find words, I had none. I knew nothing I could say would come close to touching this kind of pain, because she was burying a child, another one, and in between buried a grandson. So we wept. And because I felt words were needed and mine were useless, I opened the Bible App on my phone and went to Psalm 31 and through my tears I began to read the words that could actually comfort. Or so I hoped. And in this sacred moment of unimaginable grief and pain, I bore witness to something. Something that must remain private that belongs to her and my cousin and to me and the Holy Spirit in the way I had intended to honor it originally by not being there at all.
In this private moment, once I could reflect on it, I saw Calvary in a fuller perspective. Jesus needed his mom. That’s why she was there. But why not Joseph? Why wasn’t Joseph there? It wasn’t until earlier tonight, somewhere on Highway 59 between Refugio and Rosenburg, Texas, I understood why Joseph wasn’t there. Why he wasn’t there when they crucified my Lord. His Lord. His son.
Because they would have needed another cross.
Where Peter had taken an ear from a Roman soldier, I’m convinced Joseph would have taken his head to protect his son. Or he was going to die trying. Because that’s what fathers like that do. They protect. They guard. They defend. They pray. They love.
I’m reminded of Derek Redmond’s father in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
I’m reminded of my father when a car struck the truck I was driving with both of us in it and after making sure I was okay, my dad jumping out and almost choosing violence at the other motorist who had “almost killed his baby girl.” (I was 29, and it was a fender bender at best.)
I’m reminded of my cousin I said goodbye to on this side of Heaven today, who lovingly and committedly raised a daughter he did not sire and treated her like the princess she was to him.
I think of Jesus, God-man Jesus when he was in flesh, doing woodwork with Joseph and having conversations with his Heavenly Father in those quiet years, and my heart tells me Jesus asked His Heavenly Father to please spare Joseph that. Please don’t ask him to bear that. And I’m okay, not that the Lord or Joseph or Mary or anyone here needs me to be, but I’m okay with the fact that when twelve year old Jesus tells Mary and his stepdad “Don’t you know I am about my Father’s business,” that he was talking about his real Father. His Abba Father.
There was a quiet yielding there that I think had as much to do with Joseph as with how early Jesus was already on mission with why He was here. I think that is the last time we see Joseph in scripture because his integral part in the redemption story of all humanity was beginning its sunset. He fades to the background and is always, at least to me, the most telling person missing at Calvary.
And earlier tonight, on that same Highway, when I stopped for gas, I bought a pack of Marlboro reds in the box. I took them to my car, ripped open the clear cellophane, opened the silvered paper and took a good whiff. My daddy smoked Marlboro reds and that scent is forever his to me. I miss my dad. It’s been over a year now and as I sniffed those cigarettes like they were the sweetest of roses and let the tears fall freely, I knew the other reason Joseph had gone ahead to await Jesus. He was going to have a son to welcome back into eternity the same way I will be a daughter finding her way back to both my dads.