Spend a little time with the Joseph sketched in scripture, and you quickly discover this: He was a man on the move.
We get a taste of that in Sunday’s gospel reading:
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod.
And this is only the latest stop on the itinerary. Just a few verses earlier, the evangelist tells us Joseph and his family had already accomplished a significant move – from Nazareth in Galilee, to Bethlehem in Judea (a trek of about 90 miles). By the end of today’s gospel reading, Joseph and crew are on the move again – from Egypt back to Nazareth.
There’s nothing particularly ‘holy’ about all this disruption. In fact, there’s something a tad sinister lurking beneath the surface of each move. As Valerie Schultz has noted,
The family we venerate today is not one of wealth or privilege but a family that from the beginning is beset by problems: a crisis pregnancy, a traumatic childbirth, a flight for their lives to a foreign land, a resettling in an unfamiliar town.
Problems, moving apace in their lives – challenge after challenge, upending the Holy Family’s daily routine. Even once they settled in Nazareth, it’s likely they couldn’t settle down – not completely anyway. I learned that when visiting the region of Galilee earlier this year. Nazareth was just a tiny burg back in Joseph’s day, probably not big enough to sustain the craftsman in his trade. So he may well have had to travel to Sepphoris on a regular basis, looking for work – perhaps with his apprentice, Jesus, in tow.
This is not a portrait of idyllic peace, I notice. Their being ‘holy’ – Joseph, Mary and Jesus – requires a fair amount of course correction, a lot of adaptation and reconfiguration. Which, oddly, is encouraging to me. In recent days, you see, I’ve had occasion to tell some old family stories…and in the process, to share what I recall of certain misfits in our family tree – stretching back several generations. Not that any of us is perfect (especially yours truly), but a few seem to have had a particular penchant for upsetting the apple cart through the years.
We spoke of this phenomenon in my men’s faith-sharing group yesterday: How we are blessed by family in general, but how it can sometimes turn out to be a curious blessing in the particular. ‘89%’, I said. That’s about how much of my lifetime’s experience of ‘family’ I could recommend without reservation to any stranger on the street. I see that as an extraordinary bounty – easily besting a Norman Rockwell painting on the idyllic scale. As for the remaining 11%? I could recommend it to the stranger, too – but not without first sitting down with her for a chat over a cup of coffee.
What accounts for the difference? What allows one to ‘close the gap’ between the 89% and the 11%? Valerie Schultz provides an essential insight here, I’d say. Of the original Holy Family – Joseph, Mary and Jesus – she observes:
Yet this family is the spiritual role model for all families, because the thing they get right is love.
It’s a moving target, I suppose – this spiritual energy we call ‘love.’ We never know exactly where, or in what measure, it will have to be applied. But Joseph and Mary provide an intriguing example: Keep walking, in faith. Keep trusting in God’s providence. And keep opening your heart, in gratitude, for each and every one of the people who’s been placed in your life.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.