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Unsung heroes

To consider the life of St Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ, who is celebrated on 19 March.

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider the life of St Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ, who is celebrated on 19 March.

Preparation and materials

  • Choose a song for Time for reflection that includes a distinctive bass line.


  1. I wonder how many of you would love to be a member of a pop band. Quite a few, I’d imagine. Some of you would want to be the lead vocalist, fronting the band, the one in the spotlight. Others would be the lead guitarist, ripping off dynamic solos in the middle of the song. Then again there is the keyboard or sax player, adding a new sound for the instrumental break. Finally, there’s the drummer. Everyone wants to sit bashing the drum kit.

    Except that doesn’t account for all the musicians in the band. Sitting in the middle of the mix is someone whose role is essential, who establishes the rock-steady rhythm, who gives the song its foundation. Often this is the quiet member of the band, the one who stands towards the rear of the stage, the one who gets on with his or her job. I’m talking about the bass player. The unsung hero.
  2. 19 March is the feast day for St Joseph, one of the unsung heroes from the New Testament section of the Bible. ‘Who’s he?’ many of you will ask, which proves my point about his role in the background. Let’s remind ourselves.

    Who was the mother of Jesus? The answer, as many of you will know, is Mary. She is a central character in the story.

    Who was the father of Jesus? The answer to this is a little more difficult. Jesus is called the Son of God, and the story is that Mary became pregnant by God’s Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus claimed to be both human and divine. So where does Joseph fit in?
  3. Joseph was Jesus’ earthly father, the figure in the background of the Christmas story. We’re told very little about him. He was apparently a carpenter or artisan craftsman, in other words someone who worked with his hands. He was, however, descended directly from King David, the great hero of Jewish history.

    We’re told that Joseph agreed to marry Mary, even when he discovered she was pregnant, and accepted her story of how it happened. He was there at the birth and was instrumental in taking his wife and foster son to Egypt when it became unsafe for the young boy to remain in Palestine.

    He appears to have been alive when Jesus was 12 years old but that’s where the story ends. When Jesus begins his preaching and healing ministry it’s clear that Mary is a widow. As she emerges as a significant character in the story, Joseph fades into the past.
  4. Is Joseph merely a token presence? Would the story of Jesus have been the same without him? I don’t believe so.

    First, Joseph gave Mary social credibility. An unmarried mother would have found life very difficult in those times. Joseph filled the role of husband and had other children with her. He provided the male role model that Jesus followed for much of his life. He provided the financial security for the family within which the boy Jesus could grow.

    He also gave Jesus his Jewish heritage. Jesus grew up as a member of the ‘royal’ family, even if this heritage was only a distant memory from generations ago. Joseph’s was a vital supporting role in the story. An unsung hero.

Time for reflection

There are unsung heroes around us all the time: people who stay in the background, yet who enable our life to happen. In this school we could think of the IT technicians, the cleaning staff and the people who work in the school office, for instance. In our sports or other leisure clubs there are trainers, drivers and organizers without whose work nothing would happen. There will probably also be someone at home who makes sure everything’s in place. Maybe St Joseph’s day could be the day when we sing the praises of the unsung heroes and heroines.

Spend a moment considering the following thoughts. You may wish to turn them into a prayer:

Be thankful for those people who organize and arrange the activities you take part in.

Be sorry for frequently taking them for granted.

Make a plan to take some action that arises out of today’s assembly.


Close with a track that contains a distinctive bass line. For example: ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King or ‘You Can Call Me Al’ by Paul Simon.

‘Wind Beneath My Wings’, recorded by many artists, is about the role of someone in the background.

Publication date: March 2010   (Vol.12 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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