St. Joseph, a Tekton who taught the rabbi on the cross

Today is the feast of the great Saint Joseph, spouse of Mary, step-father to Jesus of Nazareth, tekton within the community.

I love to honor St. Joseph with his Litany, calling out for the prayers and protections of this Mirror of patience/Lover of poverty/Model of artisans/Glory of home life/Guardian of virgins/Pillar of families/Solace of the wretched/Hope of the sick/Patron of the dying/Terror of demons/Protector of Holy Church…

But lately I find myself adding one more line to that list… mentor to the Christ:

There is a rabbi on the cross, and he looks like a king, but he was a “carpenter’s son” (Matt 13:55), a tekton (i.e., artisan, builder, technician) like his stepfather, the righteous man who likely drilled him in the law even as he taught him how to take the measure of whatever construction material was before him and determine its best usage — to envision, design, attach, refine, and finish.

Perhaps parables of mercy were launched in the imagination of the rabbi when he was still very young, when the master taught him his craft, urging the apprentice to discover metaphors before his eyes: how the difficult process of planing something down—of making straight what is gnarled and knotted—brings out its inner beauty, even as it exposes its tiniest deformities to the scrutiny of the world.

An adolescent with the wisdom and confidence to debate the temple elders might have nodded in agreement, while countering that those minute flaws only served to better emphasize all that was intrinsically lovely within the wood—what made it worth saving and finishing, rather than tossing into the fires.

In the hands of a skilled builder-maker, what is raw and imperfect can be still become useful, valued, and eventually prized. Perhaps only a rabbi who understood that, and had been trained to find and select the right materials for the right project, could ever have chosen a rock as rough and thick as Peter upon which to build his church.

On the hill at Golgotha, what the first-century Jews saw is what is before our eyes, still: the rabbi on the cross, an immortal Beauty meant to save the world.

Saint Joseph, first teacher of the Lord, mentor to the Christ, pray for us.

Photo credit: Anthony Muhs, St. Joseph’s Church, Ronkonkoma, NY


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