Today’s readings start mighty and end muffled. We begin with God speaking to a king, promising him permanent progeny and we end with a Nazarene worker confused about his pregnant fiancée.
David is like a mythological hero, vast in his highs and lows, mighty and dramatic. I think of Joseph as the patron saint of the rest of us, the non-heroes. He’s not made for the grand stage—it’s like he’s stumbled into someone else’s story. But Joseph seems to understand what someone like David never can: it’s not all about you. Instead of making himself the center, no-drama-Joseph simply does his part even though he can’t have understood quite why he was here. He’s stalwart. It’s an old-fashioned but vital quality, necessary in anyone actually interested in a movement for justice. I can picture Joseph stuffing envelopes or waiting on line to get the sound permit for the protest—not demanding to be the headline speaker.
If we’re working for justice we might well be immersed in someone else’s story. The job then is to show up, to be reliable—even when the scope of the struggle might be beyond our grasp. My fiancée is pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah? My kid is discoursing with the rabbis? I hear Joseph’s confusion—and my own feelings of being out of my depth. Well, let me do right by them.
The lovely irony is that in a story—like much ancient literature— obsessed with bloodline and prophesy—it is through stalwart, regular Joe that the royal line of David is passed to Jesus. The story needs regular guy Joseph in order to connect mighty David to this Jesus who subverts hierarchies. It needs us too—in over our heads, steadfast and showing up to do our bit.
- When do you feel out of your depth and in over your head, like Joseph did?
- How are you called to show up for the work of justice anyway?
Eileen Markey is an assistant professor of journalism at Lehman College of the City University of New York who has long reported on social movements, religion and economic justice. She is the author of A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura.