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Published on: January 4, 2014
Yule Blog
The Mother of All Meaning

To get any insight at all into what Jesus’ childhood and upbringing were like, you have to do something that sometimes makes Protestants uncomfortable: study Mary.

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  • E.G. Lim

    I am not a Christian but have an interest in Western history, culture, and in Christianity. If upbringing is the key (“Do we really have to ask ourselves who might have taught him to look at women this way?”) where is Joseph in all of this? Doesn’t the human father also have a huge influence on the son regarding his relations with people, men and women alike? Or is Walter purely exalting biology, although he seems to argue mainly in terms of upbringing. Modern American culture, and here I can’t help interpreting the article in terms of current political trends, really seems to have it in for the father. Otherwise, the only other logical way to interpret the article is to view it as attributing all important familial influences on Jesus as purely genetic in nature. Am I off-base in noticing this stark imbalance in the article?

    • dloye

      The imbalance seen is reflective of where we stand. As a Protestant, I am delighted to see a thoughtful essay on Mary. The divisive nature of this topic is illustrated n a comment pastor of our congregation forbade the use of the music, “Ave Maria” in weddings or funerals in our sanctuary. Too Catholic. Joseph’s influence is truly a matter of speculation. Did Jesus train as a carpenter? Under Joseph? Seems very likely. But that’s narrative we impose from 2K years away.

      • E.G. Lim

        Thanks Dloye: Interesting comment about the pastor. On my point, I guess if there was absolutely nothing written about Joseph in the Gospels, then my issue is moot. But as I understand it, there were things written about Joseph. I too enjoy the article about Mary. My comment was not so much about Mary as about the complete neglect of Joseph (I would not have noticed if there was even a casual mention along the lines of not enough was known of Joseph’s influence etc). I was just shocked by the neglect in the same way that I am shocked by the treatment of men in the media, the courts, and Hollywood regarding child custody, reproductive rights, “men being predators as common “wisdom” ” (even Mamet in the interview with Peter Robinson) etc. But as you say, it’s just the way things are now. Merry Christmas and Happy New year.

        • Moi_in_NC

          Things are written about Joseph in the Bible, but his role is limited. Joseph was Jesus’s stepfather rather than his father, so his main role is that rather than having Mary stoned for adultery, as the law of the time allowed, or “send[ing] her away quietly”–that is, discretely ending the betrothal or effectively divorcing her as we would understand it since a betrothal was more like the first part of a marriage rather than an engagement–as he originally intended, he did as an “angel of the Lord” told him and accepted Jesus as if he were his son and married Mary. So while Jesus is God, and Mary literally the mother of God, Joseph played a more limited role in history and plays a more limited role in Christian theology as well. The essay is in no way a commentary on the current role of men or fathers, but instead looks at the differently theologies of Christians, where Catholics venerate Mary as the Mother of God, while most Protestants view her as just a woman, albeit the most “Blessed…among [all] women.” You can read all about Joseph in the first few chapters of Matthew and Luke. And Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, too!

          • E.G. Lim

            Thanks for the information, Moi. See my reply below to both you and Jose

        • Jose Tomas

          Dear Lim, I cannot speak for WRM, perhaps he is trying to avoid “saints inflation” in a blog series that is eminently ecumenic.

          But as a Catholic, I can say to you that St. Joseph is one of the (if not THE) most venerated saints in the Catholic Church after Mary herself. Most theologians consider him the greatest of all saints after Mary. In fact, he is (again after Mary) the only saint to have three feasts, including the feast of the Sacred Family. Matthew call him “dikaios” (just, righteous man), a compliment offered to few people in the Bible (it is the Jewish equivalent of a saint). Catholic interpretation is that, just as God selected the most perfect creature to be his mother, he could not do less that select the second one to be his adoptive father.

          And yes, your intuition is correct, Joseph was as influential in Jesus’ upbringing as Mary. He taught him to read, to pray as a Jew, initiated him at the Synagogue, and, of course, passed along to him his trade. Thinking of Joseph as a second class, absent father is of course ridiculous, especially in a society like 1st century Israel. When he started his public ministry, the people at Nazareth called him “the son of Joseph”.

          In an age where the family is crumbling, more and more theologians are pressing for a greater focus on him. Mary was a married Jewish woman, not some kind of single mother.

          A marvelous book about him can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Silent-Michel-Gasnier/dp/0906138493

          • E.G. Lim

            Thanks Jose for the information. Your information about Joseph is really great to know. Very interesting. I was certain that Joseph corrected Jesus as a child when Jesus misbehaved (I heard in one of the Teaching Company audio courses). But both to you and Moi, I accept and respect the differences in the theological approaches taken by Catholics and Protestants. I am happy for the new information from both of you.

            My major point about WRM’s article is that he was speaking to Jesus’s upbringing as a critical influence upon Jesus, including in his respectful treatment of women. It then struck me as just so odd that the father was not given even the faintest mention when my common sense tells me the father (Joseph) has to be an extremely important an influence in the area of upbringing. Note that if WRM was only arguing his preferred theological view or attributing everything to genetics, I would have had no view. But he went away from theology and genetics and introduced upbringing (a legitimate approach) as a key factor, while excluding all mention of Joseph, which then left a deafening silence.

          • Jose Tomas

            You are wellcome!

            As for WRM, I really think that he meant no demerit to Joseph or fathers in general, My theory still is that he tried to avoid “saints creeping” in an argument already prone to polemics. But I, just as you, think that he could have tossed a word or two concerning Joseph in his otherwise awesome text.

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