Saturday, July 31, 2010

St. Joseph the All-Comely, the Patriarch, is my patron saint. I’ve grown up knowing his story and trying to emulate him as much as possible. But it wasn’t until young adulthood, in one of my last semesters in college, that I began to look at him with the eyes of an adult and not just a kid. I analyzed all the similar stories that were circulating in the area at that time that all seemed to mimic that of Potiphar’s wife and her forwardness with my saint. It seems that a man’s ability to rebuff the advances of a woman who is pursuant of his manliness, has been a value in many cultures, even if it is seen as nearly impossible for a young man with raging hormones.

Joseph’s story takes me back—in more ways than one--to the back seat of an old Honda Accord where I listened intently to an Adventures in Odyssey dramatization of the tale. At this time, the idea of a woman desiring a man was still disgusting to me and I remember cheering Joseph on as he let out his innocent cry and ran away from Potiphar’s seductive spouse.

Joseph is seen as a type of Christ by early Christians. As I reflected on his story a little bit more, I realized that he is stripped naked twice (once by his brothers, once by the aforementioned temptress) and that he is thrown into a “pit” twice (once into a literal pit by his brothers and once into prison by his boss). Christ was was also disrobed when he was crucified and thrown into a pit (Joseph of Arimethea’s tomb) and then he was stripped of (or stripped off) his grave clothes when he rose from the dead.

It is interesting to note that the word for pit in the Hebrew Scriptures seems to be almost synonymous with the word for Sheol, the place where all the dead go, not heaven, not hell (I think the common understanding of this word needs some work), just a place to go after you die. It seems like most of the Jews believed there was no afterlife, or at least no resurrection, but there were some who held on to a belief that God could raise the dead (the Pharisees). For many of these folks, hearing about some outspoken, but obviously powerful, Jew who Himself had raised the dead, healed the sick, and who supposedly had risen himself from the depths of Sheol (Greek, Hades), would have been almost too much. When it turned out that this same Jew had alluded to the fact that He was “one with the Father” and seemed to imply at other times that he was the “I am” (YHWH in Hebrew), the issue would have been almost unbearable.

For many, though, especially a certain man named Saul who was confronted with the risen, glorified Jesus Christ, this man would do what Joseph the Patriarch did to his brothers when he revealed who he was to them in Egypt: cause them to weep with remorse.

It is also interesting that Joseph brought about the salvation of his people by storing grain and distributing it slowly. Christians believe that Jesus is the bread of life, and some of us believe that his very body and blood are present with us whenever we partake of Holy Communion. The salvation towards which Christ leads us is different than that of Joseph, whose glory was forgotten and gave way to an iron-fisted Pharoah who would only give in after all power had been pried from his hands by a series of plagues. Christ leads us to an eternal, final, decisive salvation, a Kingdom which will never end. Without Joseph the All-comely’s life, it is possible that the Jews would have been wiped out, but, by God’s grace, they were preserved long enough for the birth of a young Virgin whose greatest prayer was “Let it be unto me as you have said”. “Not my will but Yours be done”, prayed her only biological Son. I can only think that Joseph’s statement, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good, the saving of many” was the seed of this willingness to surrender and be stripped completely naked to be thrown into a pit. Thankfully, in His providence, God uses “the weak things to shame the strong”. This is what we hope to be true for our lives.

On holy week, Joseph is remembered for his likeness to Christ. In the Icon above, he is pictured in a worshipful, surrendered pose similar to that of St. John the Forerunner and many others.

When he reposed, Joseph’s bones were somehow kept among the Isrealites as they had made a promise to take his bones with them out of Egypt. And this is exactly what they did when they escaped from the oppression of Pharoah through the Red Sea. I'm not sure where his bones are now, but my saint's life will always be remembered, especially in the Kingdom of God. St. Joseph the all-comely, living in Christ forever, pray to God for us!