2:19-23. But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

There are three things we wish to speak about concerning this passage: 1) the typology of the Joseph of the Old Covenant and the way that he prefigures the Joseph of the New, the husband of Mary; 2) the relationship of fear and faith, and how fear is transformed by faith, and thus also, what is healthy, natural fear and what is unhealthy; 3) finally, we will address the prophecy that Matthew quoted concerning the Messiah’s being from Nazareth: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” But first let us make a single point to tie in the return of the Holy Family to the promised land, and their making their home in Nazareth, to the previous reflection. It is quite beautiful to see, in fact, that they are anticipating the fulfillment of the very words of Jeremiah 31 of which we have just been speaking. They are returning home to the land of Israel from a place of exile—in a new exodus that prefigures, in the intimacy of their family, the exodus of the whole people of Israel. Threatened as they are by the forces of evil that would rule over them, and experiencing the fear of those oppressed and afflicted, they nonetheless find in God both home and security. As the psalm says: “God will provide a home for the poor” (see Ps 68). So he does for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, leading the father of this family by dreams to the place appointed for him: to Nazareth, where so many beautiful things shall unfold in the hidden sanctuary of the family life of father, mother, and Child.

These themes, providing a home, exile in Egypt, guidance through dreams, righteousness as a man, etc., all lead us to the first point: the typology of the Joseph of the Old Covenant, the son of Israel’s predilection. The connections between Joseph, the second youngest son of Israel, and Joseph, son of David and husband of Mary, are indeed quite astounding. Let us unfold them shortly here, and try to make visible some of the beautiful lessons that they teach us. First of all, we see immediately that Joseph is beloved. The text of Genesis makes it quite explicit that Israel loves Joseph most of all his sons, “since he is the child of his old age” (Gen 37:3). Of course, true parental predilection does not compare children to one another and therefore does not create jealousy among brethren—and here we see again how God’s revelation of himself meets his people where they are, tolerating their sins and imperfections even as he leads them ever deeper into the fullness of truth. Another example of God’s patience with his people’s blindness is the fact that Israel had children from four different women—as polygamy and concubinage were accepted practices of the time—even though “from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8), and God is gradually leading his people to rediscover the unity and indissolubility of monogamous marriage as an image of God’s love for his people and as a simple necessity for the true integrity of spousal love. This is hinted at in the text, in fact, in that the woman whom Israel loves is only one: Rachel. And it is of her that his sons Joseph and Benjamin are born, who are perhaps the most important of the tribes in terms of salvation history and the Messianic line (for Joseph saves his entire family from death by famine, and David the king is born of the house of Benjamin, and thus also, in David’s line, the Joseph of the New Covenant).

But we have gotten off track. Let us return to the typology of Joseph the son of Israel. We said that Joseph was beloved. This is the important point to bring forth from the texts concerning Israel’s love for Rachel and her son, Joseph. Among all the other “messiness” of the Old Testament accounts of the lives of the patriarchs, a pure thread emerges, a thread of authentic love. In this, Israel is a type of Christ the Bridegroom, loving Rachel so deeply (whom he meets at a well as Christ meets the Samaritan woman coming to draw water!) that he is willing to serve Rachel’s father for fourteen years in order for the privilege of wedding her and being united to her. And Scripture says that the time “seemed but a few days because of the love that he had for her” (Gen 29:20). Here we see the ardent and yet pure pursuit of the bride by the Bridegroom, and his total devotion to her such that no efforts, no passage of time, no obstacles, will hold him back from his redeeming plan to liberate her from her bondage to sin and to draw her into the joy of the marital covenant. This is what God did for his people in the exodus from Egypt, and this is what God did for all of humanity in the final exodus of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, in which we all find definitive redemption and the consummation of union with the Trinity.

From the archetype of such spousal love between Israel and Rachel, the old Joseph is born, just as the new Joseph is born as a radiant fruit of the true remnant of Israel, of that authentic thread of covenant-love that lasts through the ages even amidst so much infidelity and sin. Born of love, both Josephs live in love with a purity that is both admirable and profoundly necessary: issuing a call to all men to love with truly chaste hearts. Indeed, we can pull out the primal truth, so essential to our freedom as human persons, that the capacity to love springs forth first of all from the experience of being loved. Only in being loved first can I learn to love authentically. Only in receiving the gift of love that bestows upon me my very own existence can I come to experience the truth of my identity as beloved. And only from this place can I find the security, freedom, and expansiveness of heart to make myself a gift to others, that my love may also communicate to them the same love that I have received, the love that unveils identity and makes secure in the joy of belovedness. “In this is love, not that we loved him but that he loved us… Love one another as I have loved you…” (1 Jn 4:10; Jn 15:12).

This chastity in loving is a very strong theme between the two Josephs. In fact, the text of Genesis makes a point of highlighting Joseph’s chastity in contrast to the sexual immorality and aggressiveness of his brothers. It does this by setting side by side their sins, recounted in detail, with his attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife (see Gen 38 and 39). She seeks to draw him into sin, even with great forcefulness, but he outright refuses, saying, “Behold, having me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand; he is not greater in this house than I am; nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife; how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen 39:8-9). Such chastity is in fact rare to witness in the Old Covenant, as there are not many examples of men who maintain complete chastity and transparency in love (even David falls into sexual sin, for example); the norm seems instead to be men who have multiple wives and concubines, and who are, to God’s great sorrow, aggressive and possessive in their sexual exploits. But perhaps this is true, sadly, even of the life of the world in which we live. How rare is a masculine heart that is free of the dulling influence of lust and sexual passion, a masculine heart that looks upon women only with love and tenderness, with the desire to reverence, respect, protect, and uphold, rather than with the desire to use! Clearly in this the Joseph of the New Covenant stands in line with the Joseph of the Old Covenant.

But it is also true that those who are capable of love are often profoundly misunderstood by others, and the faithful are persecuted by those whose hearts are corrupted by hatred, jealousy, and lust. Joseph in the Old Testament is hated by his brothers (though for a little different reasons) and sold by them to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites, who bring him into Egypt, where he is eventually enslaved; so Joseph in the New Testament must flee from the wrath of Herod into Egypt in order to protect the woman and child entrusted into his care. Both Josephs go into Egypt, and yet there both of them provide for their family and discern in all events the guiding and tenderly caring hand of God. As the son of Israel says to his brothers: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen 50:20-21). Joseph’s sale to the Ishmaelites and his slavery (due to his chastity) ultimately gives way to his being placed over the household of Pharaoh, over the entire Egyptian kingdom, and Joseph, with his capacity to interpret dreams, is able to save countless lives from famine which he foretells in advance. Eventually his own family comes to join him in Egypt, and he is reunited with his father and his brothers. However, this story of the tribes of Israel in Egypt will only come full circle with the exodus under Moses, for after the death of Pharaoh, another arises who enslaves the people of Israel. They are in slavery for four-hundred years until the marvels worked by God during the time of Moses.

Joseph in the New Testament sums up this history of Israel in himself, does he not? He too is like the Joseph of old, providing for his family in Egypt, living with uprightness and integrity, particularly before the sacred mystery of woman. He too receives and understands the guidance of God through dreams, and he too is invited to trust in the loving care of the heavenly Father even in events that seem to be unfortunate and causes of only suffering. But he too surpasses the Joseph of old, not only in the full righteousness of the New Covenant that comes only from contact with and faith in Jesus Christ, but also in the fact that he returns from Egypt: he walks the path of exodus summed up in his own person, and enters into the home that God has prepared, where the Church is made manifest in her fullness in “seed form,” in the intimacy of the Holy Family of Nazareth.