Conrad Gempf: 5th Sparrow

December 2001
Errand-boys of the incarnation
Previous 5th Sparrows

Comment on this column EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE, I think about Joseph. How tough it must have been to be the outsider in that family. His role sometimes seems limited to a transportation shuttle service. Take them to Bethlehem; take them to Egypt; take them back to Israel... sheesh!

Mary gets to treasure things in her heart, Joseph is too busy packing things onto the back of the donkey. "Do we really need to take this chest of... what is this, myrrh? You really gonna use this?"

Zechariah, too, in some ways, although he at least was the blood father. When Mary and John the Baptist's mother got together, did Joseph and Zechariah get together as well? If so, what would they have talked about? Or at least what would Joseph have talked about: Zechariah was still unable to speak.

Simeon told Mary that her baby would be the cause of the fall and rise of many and that a sword would pierce her own soul too. There were barbs for Joseph along the way as well, though.

How would you have felt if you were the adoptive father, and the child's frantic birth mother and you had to go all the way back to Jerusalem. You find the boy sitting calmly in the Temple, engrossed in conversation. "Your mother and I have been beside ourselves!"

And he says to you, "I wanted to be in my father's house."

His father. His real father. That's not you, Joseph.

Zechariah didn't get on much better. He's a priest – a priest with a first-born son, The big Z would have been expecting the boy to follow in his father's footsteps and eventually (given the signs at his birth) exceed him as a priest in holiness and righteousness.

Instead... what? The boy goes out into the desert as a young man and apparently renounces his father's religion – or at least the priesthood. Instead of the fine family priestly robes, he's wearing skins and eating bugs.

What's a father to do?

Rejoice at Christmas; but every once in a while, think of Joseph and Zechariah. Perhaps you too will someday find yourself in situations where being so close to the workings of salvation throbs and aches even as it heals.

Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.

Top | Columns | SOF Home

© Ship of Fools 2001