The Three Josephs, by Father Matthew Russell

There are more than three holy men bearing the name of Joseph, of whom mention is made in the Bible. Who, then, are the three whom we have grouped here together? The Foster-father of Jesus Christ our Lord is one of them, of course; but who are the two other Josephs whom we honour by associating them with the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary? There are three namesakes of Saint Joseph mentioned in the genealogy of our Divine Redeemer which is given in the third chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel: Joseph the son of Mattathias; and then, further back in the past, Joseph son of Juda; and thirdly, much nearer to Abraham, or rather to Adam (for this retrograde genealogy reaches him) we have Joseph, not the son, but the father, of another Judas. Of these three Josephs, however, no facts are known that could be made the subject of a comparison between them and the Foster-father of our Lord. Joseph the Patriarch was not one of those three, for of the twelve sons of Jacob, not Joseph but Judas is named in Saint Matthew's genealogy of our Lord. How often, by the way, that ill-omened name of the Traitor figures among the human ancestors of Jesus!

The first, then, of the namesakes and prototypes of our great Saint Joseph, is Joseph son of Jacob and Rachel, of whom it is written in the thirty-seventh chapter of Genesis: "Now Israel loved Joseph above all his sons because he had him in his old age;" and of whom, too, it is written in the thirtieth chapter: "The Lord also remembering Rachel, heard her, and she bore a son, saying: God hath taken away my reproach; and she called his name Joseph." And it is also written of him by Ecclesiasticus (49:17): "No man was born upon earth like Joseph, who was a man born prince of his brethren, the support of his family, the ruler of his brethren, the stay of the people."

It is true, indeed, that the brother of Benjamin is a type of our Divine Redeemer Himself, who was also hated by His brethren and was sold by them to His enemies, yet forgave them and saved them from destruction. But in one striking particular the two Josephs, who both were exiled into Egypt, resemble one another. Between the wicked wife of Putiphar and the Immaculate Virgin, between Zuleika and Mary, there is not resemblance but utter contrast; while the holy men to whom they were respectively entrusted are alike in the fidelity with which they fulfilled their trust.

Many other things that are narrated about the first Joseph are verified likewise in the last of the Hebrew Patriarchs and first of the Christian Saints. The King of Heaven has said to him, as Pharaoh said to Joseph: "Thou shalt be over my house" (Genesis 41:40); and spiritual writers are fond of imagining that God bids us have recourse to the Patronage of the Spouse of Mary, by saying to us, as the King of Egypt said to his people: "Go to Joseph."

The other Joseph that deserves to be linked with him who has made the name so dear to us, is associated, not with the beginning, but with the ending, of our Lord's mortal life on earth. He is first mentioned in Saint Matthew's Gospel, towards the end of the last chapter but one, and immediately after another Joseph who is named only in this place. After the centurion and others who had seen Jesus die had made their reluctant and faltering act of faith, "This indeed was the Son of God!" we are reminded again of the more courageous faith proved by the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, and who followed him to Calvary, "among whom" (we are told) "was Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee."

This last was Salome, and the sons of Salome and Zebedee were Saint John the Evangelist and Saint James the Greater; whereas Saint James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, whose Epistle makes him the Apostle of Extreme Unction, had for his brother this other unknown Joseph, very dear, we may believe, to our Lord, of whom he was so close a kinsman that, according to the Hebrew way of speaking, he was called the brother of Jesus.

After this mere naming of the Joseph who in God's wisdom was left out of the plan of the Apostolic College, not called with his brother James, as the other James was called with his brother John, and as Andrew was called with his brother Peter after this passing reference to the least known of the name sakes of our great Saint, for whose sake we have named him, Saint Joseph of Arimathea comes on the scene, and plays so prominent a part there, that in the sixty most devout and pathetic pages which Father Gallwey in his Watches of the Passion devotes to the "Taking down from the Cross," Joseph's name is printed ninety-four times. No one can read that holiest part of a very holy and beautiful book without beginning to feel a special devotion to this Saint Joseph, gratitude towards him, confidence in him, as a leader even among the saints of Calvary. A man of wealth, a man of high social standing, he dares, in that supreme moment when all are scared, to risk everything; and he goes boldly audacter, as Saint Mark says with a generous audacity, he goes to the Roman Governor to ask for the Body of Jesus. He gains his object; the Sacred Body now belongs to Joseph, and is safe.

We are thinking of Saint Joseph of Arimathea not for his own sake, but as representing, in a certain sense, the Foster-father of Jesus. Joseph's death of peace and honour had taken place before Christ's death of bitterness and shame; but what would have been his office here is confided to another who bears his name. To him, too, the Body of Jesus had belonged. It had been his privilege to protect and nourish the Child Jesus while He lay in His Mother's arms; and now that He lies (but lifeless) in His Mother's arms again, it is the privilege of another Joseph to guard His sacred Body and provide a resting-place for it.

Another point of similarity between the beginning and the ending of our Saviour's life on earth, is the relation of type and figure that may be discovered between the Immaculate Womb wherein He lay at first, and then at the last the new sepulchre hewn out of the rock in which no man had yet been laid. With His last earthly dwelling Saint Joseph of Arimathea provided Him. It was His last alms.

There is another link between Joseph of Nazareth and Joseph of Calvary. Like another Joseph, of whom we know nothing more with certainty Joseph Barsabas, surnamed the Just, to whom Matthias was preferred to fill the place in the apostolic ranks left vacant by the treason of Judas it is expressly stated of each of the two saints who pre sided respectively over the birth and over the burial of Jesus, "Joseph was a just man." Now, as the Son of Man is just in a transcendent sense, and as it "behoves Him to fulfil all justice," what must be His recompense for the services He has deigned to accept at either extremity of His earthly career from these two glorious saints bearing the same beloved and oft-repeated name?

But every type and figure and symbol falls short of the pathetic realities of the Divine Infancy. No saint, except the Queen of Saints, has been allowed to approach so near to our Incarnate God, as the one great Saint Joseph whose name has made us think of other Josephs. He indeed it is whom the King of Heaven has placed over His household. He indeed it is of whom the King of Heaven says to His people, Go to Joseph. He indeed it is who kept guard over the Immaculate Mother and the Divine Child. "Whom God has joined let no one sunder;" but let us in our hearts and in our prayers join together Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Let us beg of Saint Joseph to plead for us with his Immaculate Spouse; and let us beg of her to plead for us with her Son. "And the King said to her: What wilt thou, Queen Esther? What is thy request? If thou shouldst even ask one half of my kingdom, it shall be given to thee." She craves now a smaller boon only one poor heart, and this not for herself but for Him, her Son. May it be given to her prayers that He may reign for ever in this poor human soul that wishes and prays to live and to die in His faith, in His fear, in His grace, and in His love.