Why Do We Need Joseph?

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Last year my youngest daughter refused to play with the Joseph in her Little Tikes nativity set.

“Mommy,” she asked me, one hand on her hip, the other clutching the chubby figure with a crook in his hand, “if God is Jesus’ dad and Mary is Jesus’ mom then why do we need this guy?” Almost half way done with my Masters in Divinity and the holiday season nipping at my heels, I have been thinking about this question.

Why do we need Joseph? I mean the story is already totally crazy enough—virgin birth, shepherds, angels, kings from the east following a star. I know it was culturally bizarre to have a single mother for the savior of the world, but wasn’t Jesus’ whole life about breaking barriers anyway? Why do we need this guy?

What does Joseph have to teach us? Is he just a figurehead to assuage the cultural pressure? Or is his story something that might really matter in my life? Until my daughter asked me, I hadn’t really thought about him much at all.

As I’ve been thinking about Joseph, I’ve begun to see him as truly remarkable. Joseph is a remarkable ally to Mary and Jesus. He was handpicked for this gig. As the story goes, even when Joseph had no idea that Mary was carrying the son of God, he was already handling this delicate situation with kindness. Legally, Mary being betrothed to Joseph meant Mary was his property. Mary being pregnant, but it not being Joseph’s baby was punishable by death. Even when he had every right to punish her, Joseph was going to spare Mary and honor her dignity.

But then an angel shows up and instructs Joseph to protect Mary. He is instructed to love her and that baby. He is told to use his position as the one who holds the power to protect Mary, and to protect the son of God. God uses Joseph, because Joseph is the one the society has privileged.

I am a firm believer that God is always on the side of the oppressed. As a white, cisgender, straight, highly educated, middle class woman married to a highly educated man, I am not very often the oppressed. I go to a church that affirms my calling, I am in a denomination that has female ministers, and I mostly have the privilege to avoid spaces that feel oppressive to me as a woman. I sometimes ask about myself what my daughter asked about Joseph. If God is on the side of the oppressed (and I am usually not that), then what is my place in this story?

I think mostly I have the same position as Joseph. I have the opportunity to use my privilege to advocate for those who are in the most sensitive places in our societies. Mary was really in a spot. Her life was literally in Joseph’s hands. He did right by her. I don’t often have people’s lives in my hand, but I do have power.

As a writer and an active community member, I know my opinion of people matters. I have watched with shock as people take my suggestions. They sometimes buy the things I say are good. They sometimes read the things I recommend. They sometimes have even sent their child to the school I say I adore. I can be like Joseph and advocate for those who need a little amplification of their voice. I have that. I have that to give.

I don’t know if God actually did need Joseph, and I don’t know if God actually needs me, but this is the way God chooses to work and I am grateful to do my part. I think Joseph was too. Because of Joseph’s wilingness to lend his privilege as a cover to others, he had a firsthand seat to witness Jesus growing up.

I, too, have found that when I side with those in a less privileged position, that is where I see God.

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Abby Norman
Abby Norman lives, and loves in the city of Atlanta. She lives with her two hilarious children and a husband that doubles as her biggest fan. When not mothering, teaching, parenting or “wifeing”, she blogs at accidentaldevotional.com. Abby loves to make up words and is excited by the idea that Miriam Webster says you can verb things.
Abby Norman

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  • Thank you for letting your tiny theologian lead you into such sensitive ponderings.

    • Abby Norman

      she IS a tiny theologian, during systematic theology I would always ask the questions she would ask me and they were like…whoa, that is hard.

  • Louise

    I’m reading a lot about adoption as something maybe for the future – I don’t know in what form – and I read this. It adds to what I am reading. Thank you Abby, I think God has used you today.

    • Abby Norman

      thank you friend. Praying for discernment.

  • What a great way to look at it! I’ve had this thought too–where do I fit in these places as a part of the dominant culture? I love the analogy! This is great, thank you!

  • Kathleen Bertrand

    Oooooo, this is good!! Thanks Abby! And thanks to your daughter too.

  • O, Abby. THIS!!!!! I had never thought about this and I LOVE it. Thank you for bringing newness to Joseph. So so good.

  • I’ve never thought about that either but absolutely, siding with those with less privilege is definitely where I see God. Thank you for this Abby!

  • “Joseph’s wilingness to lend his privilege as a cover to others” Now there’s an image I’ve never seen before. What a thought-prosing piece!

  • Saskia Wishart

    WOAH. This is so good Abby. Such a good perspective. I have actually been looking for pieces on Joseph and there isn’t a lot I can find on him that also has a more inclusive perspective. I appreciate your wisdom here.

  • pastordt

    Lovely, Abby. Thank you.

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    This is gold! I had never thought about Joseph beyond his extraordinary goodness to a very vulnerable Mary but I love your spin on him! I love your challenge to us to be a little more like Joseph in our world.

  • Courtney Beck

    A week later and for whatever reason this post is rubbing me the wrong way. And its not because I don’t see what your trying to say Abby. I believe God is on the side of the oppressed hands down. But I also believe he’s on the side of the oppressor as he waits for them to use their power for good. I think God was inviting Joseph to see his role as partner as opposed to patriarch. And if thats not a breath of fresh air to men, or someone in power for that matter, then I don’t know what is, frankly. I think in a way you are trying to say that…for some reason I’m just reading it as “Joseph, the powerful, don’t matter.” Everything in me says – Oh hell yes they matter! Just maybe not in the way we would think with earthly eyes. Something to think about Anyway. Looking forward to future posts!