Saint Joseph – The Righteous One

The Just Man

Whenever I go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I want to visit “the tomb of the just man” in Nazareth. It is about a hundred yards away from the Church of the Annunciation. The Sisters of Nazareth, in the mid-1800, bought a piece of land for building a school. The landowner sold the plot, maintaining in it was hidden the tomb of the just man. The sisters ignored this information, thinking it was an Arabic merchant’s way to get more money for the piece of land. Later on, accidental discovery led them to a Byzantine cave-church, a Roman house with a tomb where the smell of incense showed apparent signs of veneration. The Sisters now allow small pilgrim groups to visit the place and refer to this beautiful grave as the “tomb of the just man”.

One may wonder how many inhabitants lived in Nazareth at the time of Jesus. Probably not more than a few hundred. Who then would be remembered among them as the just man? Is not Joseph called the just or righteous one in the gospel?

On the occasion of the feast of St. Joseph, it may be good to ask ourselves what it means to be just or righteous? (Matthew 1:19)

In Proverbs, we read, a just man falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked are overthrown by calamity” (24:16). In other words, the just person is not one who never sins, but his sins do not lead him to despair or destruction. On the contrary, he learns from his sins and mistakes. Acknowledging his faults, he seeks the advice that leads to righteousness (only God is just and righteous). He rises up and perseveres until he has reached his goal.

Some time ago, a middle-aged man with throat cancer came to a doctor/priest asking for help to die because he was afraid he would choke to death. The doctor told him, “if I promise you that you will not choke, do you want my treatment?” The man agreed to be treated in the hospital. The doctor medicated him so he could live comfortably. He also helped him to restore the relationships within his family, which had suffered much because of his sickness. Eight months into the treatment, the man and his family were happy people. They said that this was the best time of their life. This doctor acted in the right way. His advice reflected the righteousness from God who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that he should live.” Ezekiel 18:23.

Joseph was in a difficult situation. His betrothed Mary, having become pregnant, was liable to stoning to death, and by law, he had the right to discharge her. Being a just or righteous man, Joseph wanted to live by God’s law. However, he was not self-righteous, for self-righteousness would cause him to demand harsh justice. Instead, he resolves to divorce her quietly so that he might not cause her unnecessary pain and shame. His decision shows compassion in the face of sin. There is a balance between the law of the Torah and Love.

Ultimately, however noble this decision was, it is not what makes Joseph just or righteous. Nevertheless, he is called “the just one”, and his tomb is referred to as the “tomb of the just one” because Joseph lived what is written in Habbakuk “the righteous will live by his faith” (2:4b) for “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife.” 

Guido Gockel MHM

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