December 15, 2017

Joseph and the Way of Kindness

St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, Reni

By Chaplain Mike

“What is desired in a man is kindness” (Prov 19:22).

If there is one major lesson I’ve learned in my six years of being a hospice chaplain, it is the importance and power of kindness.

Basically, it’s my job to show kindness. I visit with patients and their families and offer to be a friend who will sit with them, provide a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, a representative of God who will pray for them, serve them through prayer, the sacraments or other spiritual practices. I officiate funeral services for them. I call and visit the bereaved after a death.

I still can’t believe I get paid to be kind! My employer asks me to do the work of being a friend; to show strangers that someone cares, to be a supportive presence in a time of stress and sadness, a calming presence when life is spinning out of control.

One character in the Christmas story exemplifies the virtue of kindness. He stands somewhat in the background, but his compassionate, caring presence is indispensable.

We are speaking of Joseph. Matthew tells us this about him:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. (Matthew 1:18-19, NASB)

We know that Joseph was a man of royal lineage, yet he himself was a simple, humble carpenter. He and Mary offered the sacrifices of the poor after Jesus’ birth, so it is clear that he was not a leading or wealthy citizen. In his work he was a blue-collar tradesman. He lived in a small town. From all indications he was a relatively ordinary man, modest in means and bearing, conservative in keeping the law.

When Mary became pregnant, it must have shaken his world.

Joseph’s response is a model of kindness, consideration, compassion, and grace. First, he sought to break their engagement, but to do so in such a way that Mary would not be publicly shamed. He kept things quiet. He carefully guarded her reputation. He controlled his anger and disappointment and found a way to protect this young woman rather than subject her to disapproval and perhaps even punishment. Unfaithful fiancees and spouses could be stoned to death!

Next we see Joseph trusting God’s word and obediently staying with Mary when the angel spoke to him.

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” . . . And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matt 1:24-25)

It must have been an extraordinarily kind heart that gave Mary the benefit of the doubt and decided to stay the course with her on the basis of a dream. This was the same kind of heart that a forebear of his, Boaz, had when he opened his heart to receive a displaced foreigner named Ruth and see to it that she and her family were provided for through marriage.

Joseph is an example of all who care for others by opening their lives and homes with grace and hospitality. He was, in essence, a stepfather to Jesus. Some of the kindest, most compassionate people I have known over the years are those who have taken radical steps to welcome foster children, adopted children, or stepchildren into their families.

And so with Joseph. This kind man was there with his wife at Jesus’ birth, even though he knew the child wasn’t his. He protected and cared for the child, even when it meant fleeing as refugees to Egypt. He obeyed God’s voice and resettled his family back to their home when it became clear that they could go back and build a life there without fear.

This was a robust kindness. This virtue that we see in Joseph is different than being “nice,” which is often confused with being truly kind. Niceness is more like a veneer of kindness, a surface act that may not represent our true commitments and feelings. Joseph wasn’t “nice” to Mary, he was kind. This man acted with genuine love and faithfulness toward her. He stuck with her and saw things through.

The Hebrew word translated “kindness” in Proverbs 19:22 at the start of this post is hesed, which is the OT equivalent of “grace.” It refers to covenant faithfulness and loyalty, a steadfast, persevering love that takes initiative to benefit others and follows through on its promises. Early English Bible translations had to invent a new word to approximate its rich meaning—“lovingkindness.” The Book of Ruth (mentioned earlier) is an entire book of the Bible devoted to showing how hesed from God blesses the lives of ordinary people when they receive it and extend it to one another.

Another example is the “forgotten” character of Christmas—Joseph. Quietly, faithfully, he showed kindness to Mary and welcomed Jesus into his life and home. Such virtue could only have come from the One whose kindness and love for humankind appeared in the One Joseph held in his arms that first Christmas night (Titus 3:4).

Comments

  1. Hey, I share that name with both the Old Testament & New Testament men of character. I cannot say I share their same saintly qualities, but they are my personal favorites when mentioned in writings and/or preaching/teaching. Thanx for mentioning Joseph & his role in the Christmas story…

  2. What a beautiful painting of Joseph and Jesus by Reni! Joseph looks so gentle and Jesus actually looks like a real baby (a fat one!) instead of a tiny adult.

    I wish we heard more about Joseph in the Gospel books. I guess we know all we NEED to know…he was obedient to God, kind, a worker…but I would like to know more. I would like to hear his words.

    Thanks, Chaplain Mike. I hope you will receive strength on the tough days when you think about Joseph and the kindness you both have to show on a daily basis in difficult situations.

  3. I worked with people all my professional life. After i grew up,[I hate to tell you my age] I always tried to make people feel better for having interacted with me.Love your neighbor and leave it to God to judge.. I wish I had learned that earlier in life, but could have should have will only make one crazy.

    • “I always tried to make people feel better for having interacted with me”

      That’s good stuff, Vernel.

  4. God has blessed me with some very kind people in my life during some particular crises. It is my prayer to keep passing that kindness on to those in my charge at the long-term care centre! What a deeply meaningful post!

  5. Steve Newell says:

    I enjoyed your comments about Joesph. We forget about Joseph’s faithfulness to God in that he cared for Jesus as his own flesh and blood and protected him from all evil.

    One thing that I find interesting is the age of Joseph shown in may paintings. He always appears much older than Mary when in fact we do not know his age. I believe that this reflect the Roman Church’s teaching that Mary was not Joseph’s first wife so that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were step-brothers and sisters so that Mary can remain a virgin forever.

    • There is also the fact that Joseph is rarely mentioned in the subsequent Gospel stories, which led many to surmise that he must have been older and/or died during Jesus’ life.

  6. The study was so sweet for me. Hope you will enjoy/endure the personal reflection:

    When my second boy was born, his father wanted to name him Samson because he was such a big boy with big hands and feet. (ten and a half pounds) It was about the only time I ever put my foot down to the domineering, fundamentalist preacher when I said, “No, you might as well name him Sue! Because if he is a big guy named Samson, everyone will always be trying to fight him!!”

    He later said, “How about Joseph.” I agreed.

    Now, 27 years later, I marvel at the man he is. The traits you describe fit my Joseph wonderfully, for he is now a 6’6″ strong gentle man, who is one of the kindest people I have ever known – and others agree.

    • My 2nd son, Jahred, almost 10 lbs. when he was born. I insisted on inserting an “H” into his name like mine. And yes, his middle name is Joseph.

      He is most like me both in looks & personality. Takes after my maternal Portuguese side of the family.

      Oh yes, he is also the tallest one in the family by a few inches & the most sensitive/gentle soul I have ever met…

      • Many years ago while a single young woman, a minister told me to be careful what I name my children because they will fulfill their name. He gave me examples in his own family of six children.

        Well, while I didn’t fully believe him, I never forgot that. Besides, I knew Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue” and felt that a name like Samson would spark physical confrontations. Anyway, I’m sure that influenced my revolt of the Samson name suggestion.

        I had wanted to name the first son Jared, but the father vetoed it. So instead I have a Caleb and a Joseph.

        Joseph is a peacemaker, a servant, tender-hearted, loved by all, and wise for his years….. and pretty darn humble, too.

        It’s nice to meet you, Joseph. Thanks for the exchange.

        • All my boys “J” names: Josiah, Jahred & Joel.

          Of course my name is Joseph, but the name selection was not intentional with names beginning with J.

          All, I believe, a reflection of our Christian faith & identification with biblical names+characters. Is Josiah kingly? Jahred to be the father of another Enoch? Joel prophetic? Not really. Sure one could see similarities or project certain aspects of those biblical people they share names with.

          I already said in my first post that I know I am not as quality of character as the Joseph’s of the bible. But there are qualities that I do identify with & try to identify as God continues His transformation in+thru me. Thanx for the exchanges…

  7. one more Mike says:

    WWJD – “What would Joseph do?” I can actually aspire to that. Joseph was the model father. He protected his children and his wife and accepted them unconditionally; didn’t make a fuss, kept the home fires burning, fixed things that were broken and died quietly when his role was finished. I can’t do what Jesus did, but I can do what Joseph did: model kindness, acceptance and grace and be that steady presence in a chaotic world.

  8. Thank you for this beautiful post on lovingkindness. We often forget in a world that celebrates comic book style heroics that the every day kindnesses are the work of real heroes with real faith in the One who is love, and who teaches us to love.

  9. Thank you Chaplain Mike. For a too short period of a time my wife and I were blessed with a ministry to the senior members of our church. The experience was sacred ground as I realized that the only thing they lived for with their children grown and bills paid was the anticipation of seeing God.

  10. A great point. One of my favorite passages is Micah 6:8, as you know does use the word “mercy” or “kindness” in various translations.

    Here is how Peterson paraphrases it:

    Micah 6:8 (The Message)

    8But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
    It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
    And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.

    But I look back though my life and the modern Christian “heroes” I’ve been exposed to, except for maybe mother Teresa, kindness or mercy has not been their major attribute. It is more of the confident, Type A, in your face leader/pastor/author, etc. So, maybe our present day models of the Christian ideal is flawed and maybe the Joseph-types are a much better model to idealize.

  11. in the homily Sunday, the priest mentioned that in the icon of the Nativity, Joseph is portrayed as having doubts; this teaches us that doubt and faith can co-exist at the same time, and God isn’t put off by that. God still called Joseph, and Joseph was still faithful and kind.

    Dana