Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The Man in the Middle

I was not prepared for this, but then, when I think it over, what could have been done to prepare me? There is no course of study at the synagogue, no training in advanced theology or worldly know-how that could have prepared me, simply because I am, in all the history that I know, the only man ever in all the world to be required to take on this task. There was nobody who could have advised me or mentored me through this. It was my love for Mary, and her need of me, that kept me going through the worst moments of bewilderment and confusion.

I am the most ordinary of men, a carpenter with just the basic education that all Jewish men have. I can read and write, I know enough about numbers to calculate how much wood I need for a task and how much to charge for my labour (though if someone is poor and desperate I will always charge them less).  I know the Law of Moses about as well as most men of my social class, but I don’t pretend to understand some of the things that the lawyers argue about. Surely if god means ordinary people to obey him then he tells them what is required in ordinary words, not secret meanings hidden behind and between the things he actually said? But what do I know? I am a plain man who planes wood for a living, who tries to honour God in everyday things and do justly to my fellow man. And I fell in love with a young woman named Mary, whose wise eyes and soft smile turned my whole life inside out.

It was a terrible shock when she told me she was with child, for I knew the child wasn’t mine. The kindest thing I could think was that too much dreaming had made her mad, and some passing stranger had taken advantage of her state. But there was no sign of madness in her steady gaze or her simple words, and I was very much confused.

And I was not prepared to deal with angels. That is a matter for great heroes, not Joseph ben Jacob from the forgettable town of Nazareth. Yet in a vision of the night, clear and powerful like no ordinary dream could ever be, the angel of the Lord came to me and confirmed every word that Mary had spoken. This was no ordinary child, this was the Messiah of God, begotten by a miracle I cannot understand.

I am not sure what I was thinking in the daze of those months, as I quietly married Mary and organised that crazy, gruelling trip to Bethlehem, just doing what I must, one foot in front of the other, but not coming to her as a husband comes to a wife, for until the child was delivered, her body was a sacred vessel, dedicated to the service of God. But I think that I half-expected the child to spring from her body like an armed warrior ready for battle. How little I knew, how little I understood. Day after day I cried out to God to relieve me of this heavy task, and day after day he reminded me that I was the only man who could do it, for I was the man who loved Mary, and guarded her child. It was enough, more than enough. I will leave the great heroic deeds to other people, and simply go on loving Mary.

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