1 May [St Joseph the worker]
Jesus came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?" And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house." And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
In this reading, Matthew’s gospel calls Jesus “the carpenter’s son” (verse 55), but Mark’s gospel simply calls him “the carpenter” (6:3). Mark never polishes the surface of the Gospel story, as the others do. Jesus was a carpenter, of course, as well as being the son of a carpenter. Otherwise, what was he doing for thirty years? We need to celebrate Jesus the worker as well as Joseph the worker.
In the past, manual work was referred to as “servile work”. It was forbidden on Sundays. If you were an accountant you could spend all your Sundays accounting, but if you were a farmer, for example, or a carpenter, you had to remain idle. ‘Servile’ comes from the Latin ‘servilis’, meaning ‘of a slave’. ‘Servile work’ means ‘the work of slaves’. This disdain of manual work is certainly not from the Gospel – Jesus himself was a carpenter, or rather a builder, a techton (Mk 6:3). It is from class-conscious societies that expected manual workers to be ‘servile’ not only in their work but in their manners. It is tragic that this was ever allowed to infect Christian practice.
When Pius XII in 1955 established May 1 as the commemoration of St Joseph the Worker, it was an attempt to steal the fire of the Communist celebration. It was a late move, because in many countries the working classes had already been lost to the Church.
We could honour St Joseph today by consciously seeing our manual work as a way of meditation, and a way of sanctification. Redemption is through the body: every one of the Sacraments makes this evident.
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