I Met a Man Named Joseph
On the Road to Bethlehem
It's raining, as it always does this time of the year in Galilee. And I don't anticipate that the weather will be improving very much as we head south to Judea, to line up to be counted by Caesar's official census takers in Bethlehem. It's a trip I would rather not make, and, from the attitudes and behavior of my fellow sojourners, no one else is happy about it either.
Local folks do not have pleasant thoughts when the subject of Rome comes to mind. We feel the Empire's leash on our neck; some occasionally feel its lash on their back; and we all feel the rude intrusion of its tax collectors into our purse. These are the issues under discussion and the reasons for the general foul mood of the crowd. We're making good time, but it's still a three-and-a-half day journey from Nazareth, and one none of us would like to take.
There is some grumbling about Rome, but most of it is not serious. However, the radical group called the Zealots is also on the scene and it's best to stay away from them. Their stated purpose is the overthrow of the Roman Empire, by stealth if possible, by violence if necessary. Their intentions are well known to the Roman guards, who are always on the lookout for any challenges to their rule, so to associate with them is to ask for trouble.
I overheard some Pharisees actively disputing the legality of this journey. They were questioning whether the Laws of Moses actually allow us to make this trip. Their arguments are always very convoluted. In this case there are two questions under consideration: first, travel beyond one's hometown is prohibited on the Sabbath, as is any sort of work, like carrying luggage or leading an animal. So this trip has to take place mid-week, therefore inconveniently disrupting daily business activities, in addition to complicating the proper Sabbath observation.
The second question was even more serious: as Yahweh is our only ruler, it is proper for us to be obeying the rules of Rome? I thought this was a moot question. Do we have a choice? But they were serious. Does Yahweh approve of Rome and her dominance over us? Or should we disobey and run the risk of Roman vengeance? I don't think in actuality it makes any difference what they think but I can understand their logic. We either obey our God or we submit to mankind's authority. I would not be surprised if at some point they would even begin to ask whether it's legal to pay taxes to Caesar.
It was at that point that I spied a gaggle of tax collectors, slyly surveying the crowd. I avoided their gaze, lest my eye contact could be taken as a sign of guilt and give them an excuse to accuse me of some major evasion.
As I turned away I found myself face to face with the young man I had spotted earlier in the day--the one with a pregnant wife on a donkey. He smiled at me. I smiled back.
We acknowledged each other with a nod and exchanged idle comments about the weather. We shook hands, and as his rough calloused fingers wrapped themselves around my soft palm I congratulated myself on my initial appraisal of the man as a tradesman, perhaps a carpenter.
"My name is Joseph," he said, agreeably. I gave him mine in return. As we were both on our way to Bethlehem to be counted I assumed he was also of the House of David. And his wife as well. We were all somehow, somewhere, someway related, our family tree tracing its roots all the way back to the Great King. While the House had fallen on some hard times between then and now it was still an honor to be counted among its members, the sweet aroma of quasi-royalty still redolent among us.
He was tall and handsome, with a neatly trimmed beard and a nice healthy complexion, probably due to long days working in the hot sun. He appeared to be a few years younger than I, maybe late teens or early twenties. According to custom, his wife would probably be even younger than he was, perhaps only fifteen or so.
"I noticed that your wife is pregnant," I commented, hoping it wouldn't be considered too intimate a statement, given our brief acquaintance. He didn't take it as intrusive, and blurted out an enthusiastic: "Yes! Isn't it wonderful?" He was almost throbbing with excitement. I felt it too.
"When do you think she will give birth?" I asked, hoping it would be well after this journey was over.
"I think it could be any day now," he said, with a slight grimace on his face. "I'm not happy about that, but she isn't worried. She has great faith."
"You're a lucky man," I told him. He thanked me and said he had to run off to check on her. As we still had more than two days of travel ahead of us we agreed to meet again so we could get to know each other better. I hoped we could stay at the same inn when we got to Bethlehem. I thought they would be good company.
He turned around and gave me a quick wave of goodbye. I smiled back. He seemed to be a good man, a just man, a man blessed with a good wife.
I wondered what her name was.
(Note: This is part of a series of on-the-scene vignettes leading up to the miracle of Christmas. It is adapted from the book The Jesus Diary, by Dave Mishur, which is available on Amazon and other on-line retailers as well as directly from the publisher at xulonpress.com. Credit also due to The Truth about St. Joseph, by Fr. Maurice Meschler, S.J., Sophia Institute.