The ancient Hebrew custom looked very unfavorably upon an unmarried state, and the family's chief concern was to have as many children as possible. A lack of offspring was looked upon as a curse from God, like a fruitless tree.
A father with unmarried daughters could not rest until he had found them husbands. Thus, it was entirely logical for Mary to consent to the betrothal as there was not much choice otherwise.
And so with Joseph, as a countryman grew to manhood, he approached the time of his marriage. It was the exception not to marry, but a vow of virginity might be taken by both, with common consent.
The entire marriage took place in two parts, after the custom of those days. The first part, referred to as the betrothal, was an exchange of consent, and constituted marriage. It could be dissolved only by divorce, though they could not yet live together nor consummate the marriage at this time.
After the Marriage Rites were concluded, the holy couple were directed by their angelic Guardians to return to their homes, and Mary went to her former home near Nazareth where she would abide until the final marriage vows.
In the several months interim before coming together, the couple customarily prepared and furnished the place where they would live.
The second part of the ceremony took place when the groom came with his friends to bring home his bride, who was accompanied by his friends in joyous procession. The wedding feast followed, and with its religious and social festivities it often lasted for a week. All meals had deep religious significance for the Jew, but even more so a wedding banquet, and guests usually reclined on pillows around a low table, or mats on the floor.
Mary was actually married to Joseph before the time of the Annunciation, though the second part of the ceremony had not yet taken place. We may assume that it did later, for God reas- sured Joseph, "Do not fear to take unto thee Mary, thy wife...."
The Messiah had to be born of the royal family of David, the tribe of Judah, to fulfill the promise of God that one of David's descendants would sit on the throne of Israel forever. And again Isaiah had said of David's father, Jesse of Bethlehem: "There shall come forth a root from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots, and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him . . ."
The genealogy in the Gospel of St. Matthew mentions the ancestors of Joseph as being the legal father of Jesus, and seeks to satisfy the minds of his Jewish-Christian readers, to whom ancestry was an important issue.
Matthew starts out with the lineage from Abraham to Jesus, placing them in three groups of fourteen members each, thus matching a belief from the book of Enoch that the Messiah would be the last of a group of three-times-fourteen members.
St. Luke, on the other hand, traces his ancestry in ascending order in a series of seventy-two members back to Adam, "the son of God." It is sometimes thought that Matthew gives the natural lineage while Luke lists his legal descent. Though both designate that heritage through Joseph, some have thought Luke's lineage referred to Mary.
In both cases some names are missing, but there was an ancient practice of deleting certain names from official lists by order of a governing body or nation. They were otherwise reliable and acceptable to the early Jews who set great store by such lists.
There seems to be no question that Mary was also of the lineage of David, though having certain relatives (notably Elizabeth and Zacharias) of the Levite, or priestly, tribe.
But, of course, Jesus broke the line of the genealogies, and came direct from God. For he was neither "made" like Adam, nor born of Adam's children. He was to be born of the most highly-evolved flower of Earth's humanity, trained in holiness -- a woman; and women were usually not even considered in reckoning by genealogy.
Paul says that Jesus was the son of David according to the flesh -- which could only be Mary's flesh, since she bore him as a virgin. It has been said that Mary journeyed with Joseph to register as a member of the House of David, but then again it is also said that women in those days were not registered. In fact when Jesus fed the multitudes, were not only the men counted? Matthew 14:21: "about 5,000 men, besides women and children."
Mary bore herself regally, as one of David's royal line. She was reserved and dignified, and still carried the family poise, though the centuries had brought some impoverishment since Solomon's time.
To Abraham, father of all the Hebrew people, God had promised, "By your descendants all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves, because you have obeyed My voice." Genesis 22:18. Mary brought forth this most supreme Blessing.
It is important to us that Jesus was born of a mortal, through a wondrous woman, becoming a flesh-and-blood descendant of Adam, for only by taking on human nature unto Himself could God lift man out of sin and bring him home to grace.
If Jesus had been set down ready-formed upon the earth, for he could have been, he would stand outside our race, having no link with us. It had to be through one of Adam's offspring that the human race could be redeemed from his error.
Mary was descended, as was David, from Eve, from Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar, and Ruth, among hundreds of others, but these were outstanding women even among the Hebrews who gained ample mention in the Scriptures. They had one thing in common. Along with beauty, they were very resourceful, in each case being able to successfully win the dominant male over to their way of thinking.
Sometimes theologians labor to find out how Mary could have been free from sin unlike everyone else, thinking she must have been granted some kind of special exemption from the impurity of Adam for this purpose.
They forget she must have worked to achieve this state of grace through many lifetimes of hard experience, having over- come even the slightest inclination to disobey. "Hail, Mary, full of grace!" How does one obtain grace to the extent of being full to overflowing unless he has worked long and stored it up to the brim of fullness, all earthier missions having been completed?
Matthew 1:19 - "Joseph was a just man." From the standpoint of the day this implied that he was one who fulfilled all the precepts of the Law. But in all things with Mary he went beyond the requirements of the Law to do that which was needed.
No spoken words were recorded of Joseph in the Scriptures -- only his fine deed -- serving to paint the picture of an unobtrusive saint, who was drawn more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in man than were the Apostles or John the Baptist. But the Scriptures mention four times when angels appeared and spoke to Joseph in his dreams -- no ordinary man is so receptive to divine guidance.
Joseph was a carpenter ("tekton" in Greek), and probably comfortable enough in an unpretentious way. Some say he was young and had taken a vow of virginity like Mary. Others say he was old, a widower with children, sometimes even stretching his age beyond ninety years.
Some follow the literal translations of the Bible which indicate that Mary and Joseph did "know each other" after Jesus was born, and had several other children, mentioned as the brothers and sisters of Jesus in the Bible.
The word for "brethren" could also be translated as "cousin," so this too could explain the relationship, unless they were step- brothers. The only real argument for Jesus being an only child lies in his giving his mother over to John to look after when he was gone -- which should not have been necessary, if she had other responsible children. Does it really matter now what was so long ago, except that we hunger to learn all things about our Lord and his miraculous mother?
The artists of the early centuries of Christianity, closer to his actual time, painted Joseph as young man, even beardless and in the flower of manhood. It seems unlikely that a man past 90 would have been asked to endure the rigors of a hurried trip to Egypt and all the other uncertainties of the early years, much less to have provided them an adequate living.
The best explanation for this is that Joseph was a man in the prime of his life, the great age conferred upon him in some instances being purely symbolical, having to do with his high wisdom rather than the number of his years.
He had, like Mary, aspired to a pure and perfect life, having received, as it is supposed, some training with the Essene school which combined a life of prayer, dedication and study with a rigorous work schedule. He was a blameless and high-minded man, and like Mary was not unaccustomed to communication with angels. His entire life had been one of preparation for this sublime mission as the companion of Mary, whether or not he was conscious of it.
There is no record of when Joseph left the earth plane. His presence is last mentioned when Jesus was twelve years of age in the Temple at Jerusalem. The words of John 5:42 make it sound as though he might still have been around at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, for someone said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?" But it is more often conceded that he passed on sometime before the beginning of Jesus' baptism into the work.