This coming Wednesday, July 26, is the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne. They are the reputed parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so are the grandparents of Jesus. Sts. Joachim and Anne are not mentioned in the Bible, but they are mentioned in an early Christian work with the infelicitous title of The Protoevangelium of James. This was a popular work, written around the year 150, in the form of a gospel. (There were many gospels such as of Peter, of Jude, of Mary Magdalene, etc. that floated around for several centuries, but were not included in the Bible. Many of these had strains of a heresy called Gnosticism.) In any case, The Protoevangelium of James provided all sorts of details about the early life of Mary and of Jesus, many that still inform our Christmas traditions today. You can read this document for yourself (an English translation that is) at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm. But I digress.
Jesus also had grandparents on Joseph’s side as well. They never played much of a part in Christian imagination about the young Jesus, perhaps because traditionally Joseph was a widower and an old man when he married Mary, and so his parents were presumably already deceased. St. Matthew in his gospel gives us the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph, and tells us that Joseph’s father was named Jacob (Mt 1:16). Jacob may not have as much of a role in popular Christian imagination as that of Mary’s father, Joachim, but at least Jacob got mentioned in the Bible.
On the other hand St. Luke gives us a genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam, which is quite a feat of record-keeping! St. Luke lists Joseph’s father, Jesus’ grandpa, not as Jacob as St Matthew does, but as Heli (Lk 3:23). Are Jacob and Heli the same guy? If not, then they cannot both be the father of St. Joseph, and in that case, either Luke or Matthew was mistaken. Since there were no DNA paternity tests in those days, we will have to wait to find out. But the identity of St. Joseph’s father doesn’t really matter to our salvation, so I would not lose any sleep over it.
Neither St. Matthew nor St. Luke bothers to mention St. Joseph’s mother. Another case of blatant patriarchy.In any case, I think it is a good idea to remember, pray for, and thank our grandparents when we celebrate the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne on Wednesday. There is an official Grandparents Day, which is the Sunday after Memorial Day, this year September 10, but I always wonder if this is not something thought up and promoted by greeting card companies. I think the religious feast day of Sts. Joachim and Anne is a more fitting time to appreciate and thank our grandparents, and indeed all our forbearers. Some of them may have been less than stellar characters. Remember that Jesus was a descendant of King David, and he was an adulterer and murderer. Every family closet has at least a few skeletons hiding in the corners. Nonetheless, we would not be here if it were not for our ancestors, so as we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne on Wednesday, let us also remember, pray for, and give thanks for all our ancestors.