Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Stone

On Labor Day weekend it is good to recall Saint Joseph the Worker.  When God decided to partake in our humanity, He could have had anyone for His foster father, and He chose a humble carpenter, a man who worked with his hands.  Why?

The Bible gives us no indication that Saint Joseph was intelligent, brave or resourceful.  He may have been all these things, but the Bible does not tell us.  We know that he was of the House of David, but judging from all indications in the Bible he lived in relatively humble circumstances.  What made Joseph stand out to God other than the fact of his heritage?

Kindness I think, simple human kindness.  This was graphically demonstrated at the very beginning when Saint Joseph first is mentioned in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 1:18 and 19:

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.

The phrase “unwilling to expose her to shame” puts rather delicately what Mary would have been facing.  If Joseph had wished, he could have dragged Mary to the center of the town and publicly accused her of adultery.  If proper procedures had been followed, a trial would have been held before a doctor of the law.  If Mary had been found guilty of adultery she and the child within her womb would have been put to death by stoning.  If procedures were not followed, a mob would have gathered and, Joseph throwing the first stone, Mary and her child would have been put to death by a stoning “lynching”, not an uncommon occurrence in the time of Jesus.  Joseph would have been completely within his rights pursuant to the Law to seek Mary’s blood for what he must have assumed was her betrayal of him.

However, Joseph loved Mary.  His love did not die when he thought she had betrayed him with another man.  Instead, his first instinct was to forgive her and to seek to protect her and her child.  God chose Saint Joseph I think because in his willingness to forgive and to protect someone he thought had gravely wronged him, he was very much a man after God’s own heart. In this great act of forgiveness and love we see in miniature the preaching of Christ and how we must emulate God in His love and forgiveness for all of fallen Man.

Many years later, when the woman caught in adultery was dragged before Him, perhaps Jesus recalled the great act of selfless love that caused Joseph to protect Mary from the Law.


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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. One of my favorite scenes from City of God regarding the selection of Mary’s husband;

    Venerable Maria de Agreda: The Most High spoke to the heart of the high priest, inspiring him to place into the hands of each one of the young men a dry stick, with the command that each ask his Majesty with a lively faith, to single out the one whom He had chosen as the spouse of Mary. While they were thus engaged in prayer the staff which Joseph held was seen to blossom and at the same time a dove of purest white and resplendent with admirable light, was seen to descend and rest upon the head of the saint… And the priest espoused Mary to the most chaste and holy of men, Saint Joseph.

    The rod of Arron for the house of Levi budded in the Book of Numbers 17:8. And then this vision of Joseph’s rod budding forth. We are not obligated to believe the words from Venerable Agreda, however there is a sweetness to her story on the selection of St. Joseph.

    St. Joseph. Please pray for us.

  2. Dear Mr. McClarey,
    You are quite mistaken when you state that St. Joseph thought Mary guilty of adultery. Never would this thought even entered his mind. He knew her sanctity and that it would be impossible for her to be guilty of adultery. Rather, he knew that there was a mystery involved with her pregnancy of which he was totally ignorant and therefore he decided to quietly put her away without regarding her to the law. To infer that he had thoughts of adultery on her part is disrespectful to his sanctity.

  3. “He knew her sanctity and that it would be impossible for her to be guilty of adultery. Rather, he knew that there was a mystery involved with her pregnancy of which he was totally ignorant and therefore he decided to quietly put her away without regarding her to the law. To infer that he had thoughts of adultery on her part is disrespectful to his sanctity.”

    The facts of human reproduction were no mystery to Saint Joseph. He would not have wanted to put her away quietly if he thought that adultery were not involved. The mercy he displayed while he thought this does not detract from his sanctity but rather adds to it.

  4. If Mary Magdalene was “taken in adultery” where was her adulterous partner, the man, who was to be stoned to death along side of her? “Let the man who has no sin cast the first stone”. “I do not condemn you.” Jesus Christ.
    St. Joseph patron of departing souls pray for us.

  5. Like father, like son. Joseph and Jesus had similar moral characteristics in my opinion: obedience, kindness, self-sacrifice, piety, fear of the Lord, etc.

  6. I love Saint Joseph too. I think he was baffked and faced with something he couldn’t unflderdtand, but what he did know for sure was that he loved Mary. I think he knew how the law could be used by those willing to judge and accuse…and he knew that he would not bring that about by any tacit or spoken accusation.

  7. Sorry for my typos. I don’t think he judged her in his heart, though he didn’t know what was going on. I think they both lived at such a spiritual level that they perceived things a bit differently than we might

  8. Anzlyne.

    In all of St. Joseph’s​ anxiety or doubts, the merciful God sends word via an angel in a dream; Douay-Rheims Bible Matt. 1:20-
    “But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost.”

    Now peace enters in…for a while.

    I agree with you about the level of spirituality that filled Joseph’s heart.
    Quiet and contemplative.
    A good father figure.
    A great example for men today!

  9. I recently found out something that sort of relates– assuming that the stoning went by Jewish law, Saint Joseph would have had to cast the first stone.

    The first stone had to be thrown by the witness; he, being the husband, would have been able to say that he hadn’t laid with her, so the fact that she was with child would be proof, thus he’d be a witness…and he chose not to do so, like a (modern) decent person would. That time and place, the costs of that sort of mercy was a LOT higher.

    I hold to the theory that Jesus, with the woman “caught in adultery,” was being clever again– using the way that the folks making the accusation knew He had power bow to that belief, even if they wouldn’t bow to Him. If one of them WAS a witness, they had to step forward to throw the first stone– and if they did, you just know that He would’ve explained how they knew…and chances are, it wouldn’t be as innocent as Saint Joseph.

  10. Foxfier: Great comment, since it takes two witnesses to establish a judicial fact, even in the Old Testament. Would the people have taken one man’s word over a woman’s life?
    Jesus was the only man among them who had no sin. And as the Son of God, Jesus, forgave the woman.
    The Gospel tells of the woman taken in adultery. Yet,the people had not captured the male adulterer. It was not Justice the people sought but to slake their lust for blood. Their lust for blood incriminated every last one of them.

  11. We don’t know the date of the adulterer. And we shall never know, any more than we shall know what was that the Lord wrote in the dust. Two mysteries pointing to the same teaching, perhaps. The point of the narrative is not guilt, nor is it, for the most part, human justice. The point is mercy, repentance, humility, and forgiveness.

  12. I have to agree with Steven McCallan. Mary would not have said to Joseph, “Hey, I cheated on you and got pregnant, but will you marry me anyway?” She would have told him exactly what happened. Joseph, being just and devout, and realizing that something miraculous, and marvelous had happened, went to others, probably the high priests quietly for counseling (read the Greek here). He may have not felt that he was worthy to care for such a child that was to be born. With guidance, they decided that it would be best that he should not not marry her. If he believed someone else was to be the true husband, he had the duty not to marry her. However, it should be done quietly since if word did get out, many people would not believe it and want to condemn or ridicule her, and the others who would believe would make her a display (again read the Greek). it was the angel, then, who confirmed that what Mary said was indeed true and told him that he should take Mary as his wife.
    I know other great theologians had and have other opinions, but I believe mine has as much substance as theirs. If the Church were to state otherwise, I will be the first to say I am wrong.

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