Absalom Jones vs. Joseph

The Saintly Sixteen continues with Absalom Jones taking on Joseph. In the first round, Jones defeated Matthias by the largest margin of Lent Madness 2016, 82% to 18% while Absalom Jones swept past Christina Rossetti by the second largest margin, 79% to 21%. Will this be a harbinger of a tightly contested race? Only time and your (single) vote will tell.

And, yes, the Supreme Executive Committee already knows this matchup is "not fair." But of course, that's the whole point of Lent Madness -- it's not about who wins, but about how much you learn and are inspired by these incredible holy men and women who have come before us in the faith. We assure you none of these saintly souls care one iota about winning the Golden Halo -- they've already won their crown of righteousness by virtue of their faithfulness. (Well, maybe they care just a little -- it affords them some pretty sweet heavenly street cred). The real "winners?" Everyone who takes the time to read, learn, and be inspired along this Lenten journey.

Yesterday, in the first matchup of the Saintly Sixteen, Constance defeated Helena 69% to 31%. She'll go on to face the winner of Clare vs. Vida Dutton Scudder in the Elate Eight. Today is the last battle of the week but fear not! We'll be back bright and early Monday morning as Methodius takes on Albert Schweitzer in the Lent Dome.

Absalom Jones

Did you know...

In the mid-to-late 1700s, slaves living in Pennsylvania were allowed to marry and to learn how to write and read. Jones worked at night for many years to buy his freedom, but first he bought his wife’s. The reason? Their children would then be born free.

In Philadelphia, there is a chapel and a memorial window named for Absalom Jones. His ashes have been enshrined in the altar of the chapel.

When yellow fever struck Philadelphia in the 1790s, Absalom Jones assisted Dr. Benjamin Rush in treating people afflicted by the plague: blacks were initially thought to be immune, and many whites simply fled the city (including most doctors except for Rush and his assistants, some of whom died). Jones and other black Philadelphians helped nurse the sick and bury the dead. Jones in particular sometimes worked through the night.

One of Jones’s favorite biblical quotations was Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

A renowned preacher, it's best to let Absalom Jones speak for himself:

“Our God has seen masters and mistresses, educated in fashionable life, sometimes take the instruments of torture into their own hands, and, deaf to the cries and shrieks of their agonizing slaves, exceed even their overseers in cruelty. Inhuman wretches! Though you have been deaf to their cries and shrieks, they have been heard in Heaven. The ears of Jehovah have been constantly open to them: He has heard the prayers that have ascended from the hearts of his people; and he has, as in the case of his ancient and chosen people the Jews, come down to deliver our suffering country-men from the hands of their oppressors” (“A Thanksgiving Sermon,” January 1, 1808)

“Let the first of January, the day of the abolition of the slave trade in our country, be set apart in every year, as a day of public thanksgiving for that mercy. Let the history of the sufferings of our brethren, and of their deliverance, descend by this means to our children, to the remotest generations; and when they shall ask, in time to come, saying, What mean the lessons, the psalms, the prayers and the praises in the worship of this day? Let us answer them, by saying, the Lord, on the day of which this is the anniversary, abolished the trade which dragged your fathers from their native country, and sold them as bondmen in the United States of America (“A Thanksgiving Sermon”).

— Hugo Olaiz


unnamed-3The canonical Gospels offer very few details about Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. His mentions are limited almost entirely to the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke. It is speculated that Joseph must have died in Jesus’ childhood. Matthew presents him as a particularly righteous man, obeying God faithfully and often doing exactly what God commands word for word. And it is no small thing what Joseph was asked to do.

The earliest non-canonical stories about Joseph (found in the Proto-Gospel of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas—both of which are delightful, quick reads) help us understand the enormity of the task and give us a glimpse of his character.

In the Proto-Gospel of James, Joseph enters the story as an old man, widowed with his own children (according to another ancient source, Joseph is 90 with four sons and two daughters). Mary is 12 and living in the Temple. The Temple authorities need someone to look after her. Joseph is chosen by means of a divine sign—a dove emerges out of his rod and lands on his head. Joseph is initially reluctant to take on the task, citing his old age and his own children that require his care and attention. He is ultimately convinced by the priests and takes Mary into his home.

Sometime later, when Mary is found with child, Joseph expresses guilt over having failed in his responsibility to watch over her. He and Mary are brought to trial in the Temple and given a sort of truth serum, the “water of refutation.” They drink the water, no sin is revealed, and they are sent on their way. These fantastic stories remind us of the social stigma that both Joseph and Mary bore and the great sacrifices they made to serve God faithfully.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas imagines what it must’ve been like to raise the child-God Jesus. In summary, not easy. The boy Jesus is about what you’d expect if you gave any random three-year-old total power. Jesus kills kids who bump into him, makes mute (and nearly dead?) teachers that cross him, and generally terrorizes Nazareth. At one point, Joseph, exasperated, implores Mary, “Do not let him out the door, for those who anger him die.” When a teacher expresses interest in teaching the young boy, Joseph simply replies, “If you’re that courageous, brother, take him along with you.”

But Jesus is not a terror for the whole story. He grows and matures and becomes more like the Jesus we are familiar with in the Gospels. And it is under Joseph’s steady and faithful guidance that Jesus learns how to live in harmony and to contribute to the welfare of the community.

— David Creech

Absalom Jones vs. Joseph

  • Absalom Jones (52%, 3,313 Votes)
  • Joseph (48%, 3,094 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,407

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Joseph: Painting by Reni via Wikiart.
Jones: Icon - unknown artist.


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168 comments on “Absalom Jones vs. Joseph”

    1. This time I voted for Absalom for his anti slavery work as well as help during the yellow fever outbreak.

      I agree though that the picture of Joseph is "sweet."

  1. I agree with Oliver that the picture looks cute, and I agree with voting for Joseph. It's all in that look, that gentle cradling, that loving amazement.

        1. Well said, Derek! And, Lucy, while C.S. Lewis is right that God doesn't tell us what would have been if we (or in this case, Joseph) had chosen differently, I agree with you that Joseph played a critical role, by obediently serving as Jesus' earthly father, in the development of Christianity. So, much as I am wowed by Jones, Joseph it is!

      1. Thanks for posting this. How did you get the YouTube screen to appear and not just the url?

        1. Donna, I have no idea. I've posted links before and this is the first one to come up like this. Must be the Lent Madness coffee mug next to my computer.

          1. Cute! That must be the difference!
            In case you missed my post (because there is not photo!)--there is a beautiful, five-minute YouTube called "Joseph" filmed by friends last December and sent as a Christmas gift. It tells the Nativity story in modern times with tenderness and compassion. The video and song illuminates Joseph's confusion and fear, yet steadfastness. It has re-kindled my appreciation for St. Joseph. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=W4o2visAKZ0

          2. I agree, Ladies. Today's vote is easy peasy. St. Joseph. I am familiar with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. It is a delightful, quick and informative read. And yes, young Jesus was quite the prankster!

      2. This is heart-rending. My children are close to losing their father, my husband. So in honor of all fathers who stuck around, my vote goes to Joseph.

  2. Interesting stories today. I did not know Mary was only 12 when she had Jesus. I did not know Jesus was such a tyrant when he was young! I voted for Joseph.

    1. I voted for Joseph, who generally gets short shrift even at Christmas. But be extremely wary of the stories in the "Infancy Gospel of Thomas." There are strong, strong reasons why that material is *not* in the Bible!

      1. I agree. I can't imagine that the Messiah, who was without sin, would have committed murder even as a child. But I do yearn for more stories of Jesus as a child.
        My vote also goes to Joseph. He is the patron saint of adoptive children, expectant families, and families in general. A treasured souvenir from my senior class trip to St Patrick's Cathedral in NYC is a St Joseph medal.

      2. I would like to vote for them both! I went with Joseph probably because I have worked with pregnant, unmarried teens and have huge respect for fathers who stick with them.

    2. Remember that those stories are legends. We don't know Mary's age--except that girls were betrothed young. And we know nothing at all about Jesus' childhood.

  3. I have much regard for all the saints but Joseph is my vote for Golden Halo. He is such a great role model for our society where 50% of our children are raised by step parents. His caring and protecting of Mary and Jesus is amazing. His helping to raise a child who presented many challenges is phenomenal. His since of community helped Jesus grow.

    1. Wee said. There is a painting in the Greek church of the assumption in Israel of Joseph with Jesus. In which the loving Daddy is shown.

  4. I was about to vote for Absalom, then I read Joseph. But then I read about Joseph. I teach Middle School. Talk about three year olds with total power. But Joseph gives me hope. With loving guidance perhaps these children will grow up to be contributing, compassionate members of their community.

  5. N.B. "Enormity" does not mean huge. It means enormous evil.
    Tom Van Brunt, Hamlet, OhioThomas Van Brunt

  6. I have always felt love for Joseph; I wish the gospel and letter writers in the New Testament had showed greater interest in this fascinating and, to us, mysterious man without whom we would not have had the Jesus we believe in. This year, for the first time, I've been seeing paintings of Joseph and the infant Jesus which depict his tenderness, protection, and father model role - the first father Jesus would know. These paintings move me as much as any photograph of my own late father. I feel Joseph's time for honor has come.

  7. I didn't vote for Joseph only because I think the Infancy Gospel of Thomas got it all wrong. joseph looks like an old wimp. If he had been portrayed as the man I think he was, he would definitely got my vote.

  8. I voted for Joseph. Not a easy decision given Absalom's saintly efforts. For me, Joseph represents the perfect "dad;" courageous, loving and compassionate to all. A caring and totally devoted husband as well.
    Oliver, I slso agree that the painting speaks to my heart as an image of a loving father.

  9. I voted for Joseph. Not a easy decision given Absalom's saintly efforts. For me, Joseph represents the perfect "dad;" courageous, loving and compassionate to all. A caring and totally devoted husband as well.
    Oliver, I also agree that the painting speaks to my heart as an image of a loving father.

  10. While I love Joseph as step-dad to Jesus, follower of dream messages, and patron saint of laborers, I cast my vote for Absalom Jones. His decision to see that his wife was freed first so that their future children would be born free was a piece of my decision (something I suspect Joseph would admire, as a courageous parent himself). I was also inspired by AJ's work with the sick and his preaching.

  11. I did not vote for Christ's stepdad. What Joseph did was amazing, but Absalom Jones inspires me to think and do for others. Like Joseph, AJ sacrificed for his family. His care of the sick during the yellow fever epidemic inspires one to care for others.

  12. So not fair. This could be the final, not the second-round tie. NAUGHTY bracket engineers.

    Voted for both of these before, want to vote for both of these now. Joseph narrowly squeaks it through patience in parenting, and adoration in adoption - raising a deviant with a pre-teen mum he did an excellent job.

  13. I think these stories about Jesus as a child are that, just stories. I do not think Jesus was anything like us humans as a child. He was born without sin.

    1. But Jesus wasn't merely LIKE us humans, he WAS human. The Infancy Gospel could be seen as one attempt to imagine an answer to the question, "How could he take our human nature upon him without being a brat?" Come to think of it, the account of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple could be viewed as a way to avoid having to ask the same question about his teenage years by establishing that at that point his Sonship was already fully manifest.

      It would be interesting to apply what we objectively know about the normal development of a moral sense in children to the case of Jesus, possibly allowing for quite a bit of naughty yet sinless behavior.

  14. I wanted to vote for Absalom, but have always had a soft spot in my heart for Joseph. He represents humility to me, a quality much disparaged in our culture, but which we sorely need more of.

  15. Absalom Jones exemplified loving fatherhood when he bought his wife's freedom first so his children could be born free. That sacrificial impulse put into action speaks volumes of living in God's abundant love through all of my life's events.

    1. AJ and J are equally inspirational fathers but AJ needs more press. The Golden halo would do it.

  16. Not sure if my vote went through! I pushed the button for Absalom Jones but it didn't seem to go through. I tried again and still didn't seem to go because usually it shows the results.
    Wasn't trying to vote more than once!

    1. If you are using a tablet or phone, keep trying until it won't let you anymore. It did that to me a couple days ago; th server was too busy to count the vote. If it doesn't show the results, it hasn't been counted.

  17. A tough choice. But Joseph got my vote. Acceptance of Mary and adoption of the Babe won out. Plus, My first ordination was on Joseph"s feast day.

    1. My ordination to the priesthood was on St. Joseph's Day. Happy upcoming anniversary to you, Gail Davis!

  18. In discussing Constance yesterday, I recalled reading another bracket saint who nursed people during yellow fever. Couldn't recall who. It was Jones! Whereas, when Jesus caught a cold, I'm sure Joseph handed him over to Mary to be nursed.

    1. How can you say that? I can well imagine Mary frequently having to tell Joseph "Let me take care of Him."

        1. Oliver, I do enjoy your reasons for voting, and generally agree with you, as I do today. It is the picture that swayed my vote, too. There are thousands upon thousands of pictures of Mary and Jesus, but never have I seen one of Joseph holding the Babe. Fathers today certainly delight in holding their wee ones. This honors them all and helps us to realize that Joseph was more than a shadow in the background.

  19. I voted for Joseph. His faith & compassion was great. He quietly took care of Mary & Jesus. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for him because he listened to the angel & took Mary as his wife, instead of quietly putting her away. He raised Jesus as his son & taught him to be a carpenter.

  20. As much as I respect Absalom, my dad's name was Joseph, and the real "old Joe" needs resurrecting in our faith, even though it's nearly all legend. But since so much of the other saint's lives and stories are the stuff legends are made of, let's give him a chance!

  21. Real vs Legend. This was a terrible choice to make. I went with the free-born children and voted for A.

    1. Since when did Joseph become a "Legend"? I've never read anything that even suggests that he isn't real or that his story isn't real.

  22. I voted for Absalom. A wonderful, visionary parishioner--now gone from this earth--made it her mission to have a window memorializing him installed in our parish hall so that we could all know about this saint. A scholarship fund has been set up in Abasalom's name and to honor the memories of Ellen Washington and another parish leader, Jim Whitney.

  23. Tough choice since I voted for each of them originally...but went with Joseph because he was an early unsung hero.

  24. That was the toughest match up for me personally to date. I chose Joseph because I appreciate that put kindness over justice in choosing to marry Mary and adopt Jesus. I plan to learn more about Abs aloe Jones.

  25. Abslalom Jones all the way. His active role in working for the betterment of African-Americans is a great example for our own time.

  26. I voted for Absalom Jones. He risked his own freedom for that of his wife and children. That's love. Not to mention caring for people with yellow fever. We know the stories about Jones reveal a compassionate and courageous man. Ok so I'm serious. Though entertaining, the.Infancy Gospel of Thomas was omitted from the canon for a reason. It has the feel of a slightly slewed Once and Future King -- in Thomas Arthur/Jesus has the magical powers; Joseph/Merlin is a bit in awe and tames rather than teaches.

  27. I feel sure Absalom will go on but felt I had to vote for Joseph in honor of all the men who rasie other people's children and those who quietly do what God asks-Absalom being one of them.