Caring for the Household and Family of God

Tuesday of this week (the 19th of March) was the Feast of St. Joseph, identified as “Guardian of Jesus” in our Lutheran Service Book. He is addressed as “Son of David” in the Holy Scriptures (St. Matthew 1:20), which is itself significant in light of the promises given to King David in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 7:8-29), and especially in view of the fact that Christ Jesus is the Son of David, our Savior and our King (St. Matt. 21:9; 22:41-45; Psalm 89:20-19; Ezekiel 34:23-24).

Although St. Joseph is not the biological father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph was His true (adoptive) earthly father. And that is no small thing. In caring for “the Child and His Mother” (St. Matthew 2:13-14, 20-21), St. Joseph is not only a husband and father to the Holy Family, but a kind of living icon of a pastor caring for the household and family of God; and in both respects he provides us with a picture or reflection of the Lord Himself as the Husband of His Church and the Father of His people.

I’ve often marveled at the beautiful example St. Joseph provides for all of us as Christians – and especially for husbands, fathers, and pastors – in the way that he receives the Word of the Lord in the righteousness of faith and then immediately gets up and does what he has been given to do. His quiet obedience is both humbling and instructive, and it should also be encouraging to us as we go about our callings and stations in life.

St. Joseph’s care for St. Mary and the Lord Jesus does exemplify the care that pastors are given to exercise for the Bride of Christ and the children of God. Yet, there is a notable difference, in that pastors who are married and have children of their own are pulled in two different directions at times. That “tug-of-war” between parish and family is a challenge and is tricky to navigate for us as finite and fallible creatures. It is relatively true – though somewhat simplistic – to say that your vocation as a husband and father comes first; but on any given day, under the vast variety of circumstances that come at us under the Cross, your immediate priorities may need to be with the people of the parish entrusted to your pastoral care. This life on earth is one of ongoing triage.

Notwithstanding the challenge and contrast between caring for the congregation as a pastor and caring for your own household and family as a husband and father, there is yet a connection and a relationship between those different vocations. St. Paul, for example, parallels the two in his first letter to St. Timothy, when he writes that an overseer “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). It is not only that these offices – in the church and in the home – are analogous and similar to each other, but also that the way a pastor cares for, governs, and teaches his own family will be echoed in the way that he cares for, governs, and teaches the congregation. There are distinctions, to be sure, and exceptions to the rule, but the parallels and similarities are significant.

Such observations can be daunting and discouraging to pastors, as they are often struggling to find the right balance between home and family, on the one hand, and the duties and demands of the pastoral office on the other hand. I know of no one who gets this exactly right all of the time. It is rather an ongoing challenge for every one of us, and one that is necessary for the health and well-being of those whom we are given to love and serve. Here, again, the example of St. Joseph is a blessing to us – not only in his faithful and quiet obedience to the Word of the Lord, but also and especially in the righteousness of faith whereby he lived within his callings and stations. For he lived, as each of us lives, by the tender mercies and free forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus.