Saint Joseph has an important role in the history of salvation. He is part of the fulfillment of the covenant promises made to Abraham (second reading) and David (first reading).
Paul’s Letter to the Romans presents Abraham as the father “of many nations”. Abraham’s universal fatherhood is obtained not through the rite of circumcision or the law of Moses, but through the righteousness that comes from faith. All who follow the “faith of Abraham” are considered his descendants. And these, in turn, will share in the covenant promises made to Abraham. Abraham is our father, not according to the flesh, but according to according to faith.
Paul highlights two aspects of the “faith of Abraham”. First, there is belief in God as the Creator of all. God “calls into being what does not exist”. In fact, we profess every Sunday: “I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible”. Belief that God is our creator means that we believe that all things depend on him totally and that he guides all things to himself through his providential plan. Second, Paul writes that the faith of Abraham includes belief in God, “who gives life to the dead”. In his letter, Paul will bring out an analogy between the faith of Abraham and Christian faith: just as Abraham believed God could bring new life (Isaac) from his Sarah’s dying body, Christians believe that God brought new life to the crucified body of Jesus by raising him from the dead” (See Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Romans 4:18-24). Above all, Abraham trusted in God and his promises; he “hoped against hope” and glorified God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised (Romans 4:21).
Paul writes that God promised Abraham and he and his descendants would “inherit the world”. This calls to mind the passage in Genesis when God promised Abraham a worldwide family through his offspring (Gen 22:16-22). It also brings to mind that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he teaches that the meek “will inherit the land”, that the poor in spirit and the persecuted will inherit “the kingdom of heaven”, and that the pure of heart will “see God”. What this tells us is that our inheritance, received through Baptism and faith in Jesus Christ, is divine sonship and eternal life with God.
The first reading begins to shed light on what all this has to do with Joseph. David, we learn, is promised an heir who will build a house for God’s name. Through this heir the house and the kingdom of David will endure and the throne of David will stand firm. God will ask David, like Abraham, to place his trust in him and his promise of an everlasting kingdom, for David will not live to see the day when Jesus, his heir, inaugurates the kingdom of God.
Today’s gospel follows after Matthew’s long genealogy (Matt 1:1-16) that guides us from Abraham and David, through the fall of the kingdom and exile, to “the royal child to whom all of Israel’s history was directed: Jesus” (E. Sri and C. Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, 41). Jesus is called the Messiah and is the king who will deliver Israel from their sin and suffering and fulfill the royal covenant made with David. Joseph is not introduced as the biological father of Jesus but as the husband of Mary. By calling Joseph “son of David”, the angel “calls attention to Joseph’s own royal heritage and his crucial role of passing on Davidic descent to Jesus”. Joseph fulfills this role by naming Jesus and claiming the child as his own. In this obedient act of naming the child, Joseph makes Jesus a legal heir to David (E. Sri and C. Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, 42). Joseph is a just and upright man, who, like Abraham and David, trusts God totally. Joseph’s faith and trust are fully manifested in his obedience to God’s commandment: he does just as the angel of the Lord commanded him, taking Mary into his home and naming the child Jesus.
As we celebrate the solemnity of Joseph today, we contemplate him as a model of faith and trust in God. We should strive to imitate Joseph, asking God to increase our faith and help us in our unbelief. Second, as we meditate today on Joseph’s role in the history of salvation, we ask God to enlighten us about our own mission and we ask him for the grace and strength to fulfill that mission as Joseph did.