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St. Joseph Speaks — Not Much, But Enough

St. Joseph Speaks — Not Much, But Enough

Saint Joseph and the Christ Child. (1670-75) (photo: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo / Public domain)

COMMENTARY: What word could be more important than the Holy Name of Jesus?

I have done it countless times. But I don’t do it anymore. And as a final gift from the Year of St. Joseph, other preachers should stop doing it, too.

Yes, I have often said that the Gospels don’t record a single word of St. Joseph. That’s understandable, but not really true. The Gospels don’t tell us exactly what Joseph said on any occasion as a direct quotation. There is no equivalent to Mary’s valedictory Do whatever He tells you (John 2:5), let alone her epic Magnificat.

St. Matthew though tells us this: When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus (Matthew 1:24-25).

We know from the naming of John the Baptist that it fell to Zechariah, then mute, to write: His name is John (Luke 1:63). So we can actually know that Joseph said “His name is Jesus” or at least “Jesus” at the appropriate time.

The preacher’s device is not that Joseph never spoke, but only that the Gospels do not record his speech. Yet Matthew 1:25 does faithfully record his speech, just not in quotation marks. It’s on a matter of the highest importance besides.

We get used to the idea of the silent Joseph because we are not told anything about what he said at times that we expect he would have said something. Not in Bethlehem, nor in the Temple of Jerusalem. When the Boy Jesus is found after three days, it is Mary who speaks on behalf “your father and I” (Luke 2:48).

The Gospels do not record all speech in quotation marks. Consider the call of the first apostles. St. Mark records that Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” — a direct quotation (Mark 1:17). Yet in the next verses Jesus sees James and John in their boat, “and immediately he called them” (Mark 1:20). We are not told what he exactly said, but we could surmise that he summoned them with the same “follow me” which he addressed previously to Simon and Andrew.

We have another example of how speech is recorded in the New Testament from St. Paul. In Acts 20:35 he says:


In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”


Those words of Jesus do not appear anywhere in the Gospels, in neither direct nor indirect quotation. Yet St. Paul is quoting Jesus directly. So we have here St. Luke, author of Acts, directly quoting St. Paul directly quoting Jesus, but having made the choice not to include the quotation from Jesus in his own Gospel. There are various ways in which speech is recorded!

We know that Joseph spoke at least one recorded word: “Jesus.” What word could be more important than the Holy Name of Jesus? The name was given to both Mary and Joseph by the angel. Luke’s Gospel only records that the name is duly given (Luke 2:21); Matthew tells us that it was Joseph who gave the name, as one would expect as the legal father of Jesus.

The act of naming is of great significance in the Scriptures. The first task that the Lord God gives to Adam in Eden is to till and keep the garden (Genesis 2:15). The second task, before the fall and even before the creation of Eve, is this: So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name (Genesis 2:19).

Adam gives to all the creatures their name, and the identity they take on is the one Adam gives them. It is a sign of his authority as a father in creation.

Thus when the Eternal Son takes a creaturely nature to himself, it falls to a descendent of “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38) to bestow a name and mission upon him. Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) explicitly ties Joseph to Adam.

In granting Joseph the authority to name the Eternal Son, the Lord God expects that he will do so, that he will speak over this child the name that expresses a mission: and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Joseph fulfills that mission. He speaks. Not much, but enough. He speaks the Holy Name of Jesus.

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