Overflowing with pilgrims, Jerusalem joyfully awaited the feast of the harvest, which was near. The eleven of us from the group, and the women, who were gathered during those days in Mark’s house, were listening to Mary, Jesus’ mother, about her reminiscences, as if she was drawing old and new things from her hidden treasures within.
Mary: …a vast hell for such a small country, so they say. And this is true, because in Nazareth one cannot even cough without the whole neighborhood knowing about it. You can imagine, of course, that we were composed of barely twenty families… And although my mother had sent me to the other end of the country in order to avoid gossip, my neighbors’ tongues continued to wag…
A Female Neighbor: You mean you know nothing? Oh, woman where’ve you been?… Up there in the clouds?… Joachim’s daughter!… Yes, yes, this Mary who looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth….
Another Neighbor: Why, what happened to her, tell me?
Female Neighbor: What happened to her? Just like leavened bread… swollen…!
Female Neighbor: Holy Lord, what a scandal, what a shame!… So this guy Joseph lost no time, huh?
Female Neighbor: Nonsense! Better pity him… If the woman “has made a cuckold out of him, lalarin, lalarin…”
A Male Neighbor: I told you, this brown skinned woman was too happy…. How she laughs, how she dances, and how she plays… and of course, there’s this other game! I tell you, the youth of today is confused!
Another Neighbor: I tell you, if she were my daughter, I would give her a nice beating that would make her butt more red than the Red Sea! This is what I call a loosening of morals, compadre!… During our time, a decent woman would not peep through the window nor remove her veil from her face… Now, even their ankles are exposed… and then, they resent the consequences!
Male Neighbor: Exactly!… I wonder, compadre what the boyfriend has said. I understand that Joseph has nothing to do with this belly. What’s he planning to do?… He must be gathering some stones by now…. Don’t you think?
Neighbor: Well, first of all, he must be informed about it. The poor guy hasn’t the slightest idea.. That’s right…. Joseph doesn’t know about it yet….
Joseph: Hey, what’s happening here? Am I afflicted with leprosy, that no one seems to come near me?… I walk and everybody stares at me. I go to work and one begins to laugh while another starts whispering…. Damn, what the hell is wrong with me?
A Male Neighbor: Nothing’s wrong with you, young man. The problem is with your girl friend.
Joseph: With Mary?… What’s happened to her? Tell me.
Male Neighbor: I’m sorry, Joseph, but I’ve got to tell you… The matter stinks more than rancid cheese and the longer it lasts, the worse it will be….
Joseph: Straight to the point, please.
Male Neighbor: Well, you see, your girl friend is going to have a baby.
Joseph: How’s that again…?
Male Neighbor: She’s pregnant. That’s it… Since all of us think that you were not the one… well….
Joseph: That’s not possible… no, no, it’s not possible… I can’t believe Mary could do this to me….
Male Neighbor: Well, you’ve gotta believe it, young man. Had Noah not believed in the deluge, the fish would have gobbled him up…
Jack: Good day, Joseph!… What’s with you, buddy? Have they told you about your girl’s indiscretion?… Damn it, all these girls are the same!… Either they commit the same fault or some of them do worse! Ha, ha, ha…!
Joseph: Shut up, Jack…!
Jack: But it’s okay, man, they also played the same joke on Hosea, and see, he even became a prophet!… Hahahay…!
Joseph: Beat it man, or I’ll break your neck!
Jack: Okay, okay…. “If they make a cuckold out of you…”
Joseph: Go to hell, insolent one!
Jack: You too!…. Hahahay…!
Mary: That was indeed hell for Joseph!… I feel kind of remorseful, every time I remember…! Much later he told me that on that day he locked himself up in the house, not wanting to eat nor talk to anyone…
Mother: Joseph, my son, why don’t you take something…? Joseph….
Joseph: I don’t want anything! All of you, go to hell and leave me alone!
Mary: He was desperate… He lay on the mat, closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep….
Joseph: Shameless woman, now you will know who I am!… After all those sweet words and caresses, now this!… Wait till I grab you by the hair to bring you here and drag you through the village…. Do you think you can make me the laughing stock of the town?… Damn you, I’ll reject you and I’ll bring you naked before your father and tell him to his face: “Take her, I’m giving her back to you, I don’t want any trash in my house!”… This will teach you to respect your promise… I said I wanted to marry you and you said you wanted to marry me too, and now… now….
Mary: Joseph bit his tongue so that his brothers would not hear him weep. He tried to suppress his tears with his hands, but they just flowed like a river.
Joseph: You’ve broken my heart, Mary… You’ve left it all shattered…. Why have you done this to me?… I loved you…. I’ve always loved you since the time we were kids playing in the hill… You’re my reason to live… I never set my eyes on any other woman but you, Mary…. What am I to do now?… I’ll go away, and only the devil knows where… till I find another woman… There are other women, more beautiful than you, do you hear?… and who can cook even better…
Mary: Joseph was restless on his mat. Then he covered himself with a blanket and tried to sleep… in vain….
Joseph: No, I can’t leave without seeing you before… I’ve got to see you… if only to hear the truth from your own lips… c’mon, be brave enough to tell me to my face… yes, yes, I’ve got to see you…!
Mary: Then he sat on the mat… He was sweating profusely, in spite of the cold night breeze….
Mother: Is there anything wrong, son…?
Joseph: No, Mama, nothing… I’m not sleepy…
Mary: He was smothered. He couldn’t stay put. Gropingly, he stood up, put on his robe and without saying goodbye to his mother, opened the door and left… He did not bring any knapsack nor cane with him, and the road was very long… This did not matter to him…. He had to get to Ain Karim as soon as possible to where I was staying during those months.
After two days on the road, he reached the mountains of Judah where he could see the village from afar…. He stopped. His heart seemed to be bursting in his chest…. He took a deep breath, then, hastened his pace toward my uncle’s little hut.
Joseph: Is this where…?
Mary: Joseph stood still at the door, before me, his eyes fixed on my bulging tummy…
Mary: Joseph, what’re you doing here?
Joseph: I came to see you…
Mary: Well… here I am…
Joseph: Yes, I know… I see…
Mary: I’m expecting a child, Joseph.
Joseph: I’m waiting for an explanation, Mary… Then, I’ll go away, and you’ll never hear from me…
Elizabeth: You’re not going anywhere! And before you become too sullen, you’d better show your respect for the people here!… My goodness, what’s become of our youth nowadays? They come to your house and they treat you like you were a sack of flour… You’re Joseph, aren’t you? I’m sure. It shows in your face… So, are you visiting or something?
Joseph: Well, yes, Ma’am, I… I came to talk to Mary…
Elizabeth: About something and a lot of things. There’s enough time for that… First, you must wash your feet and take something…
Joseph: It’s okay, Ma’am, I don’t mean to bother you… I….
Elizabeth: C’mon, young man, you can’t deny it…. Your eyebags are bigger than the folds of my robe…. I guess you haven’t taken anything warm since you left Nazareth, is that right?… C’mon in… I’ll call in the old man…. Zechariah, come and meet Mary’s boyfriend!…. Hey, easy now, little John… that’s my son, you know. He was one month yesterday…. It’s not because he’s my son… but tell me, Joseph, isn’t he as cute as a cherubim?
Mary: How well my Aunt Elizabeth treated Joseph! She let him in, cooked food for him and made him rest in the small room at the back…. Then, Uncle Zechariah showed him his garden and his chickens he was raising by the side of the well…. There was a warming of the hearts between the two…. Later, at sunset, when everything becomes cool, and one sees things with more serenity, Joseph and I sat down to talk, beside a green olive tree in the patio….
Mary: Well, I don’t know where to begin…
Joseph: Neither do I…
Mary: What did they say about me in the village?
Joseph: It’s all silliness…. They’re too good at tongue-wagging…
Mary: At what…?
Joseph: They gossip a lot, Mary… They do nothing but wag their tongues.
Mary: Tell me, Joseph… Will you believe more what I’ll tell you, or what your friends have told you?
Joseph: Who’s the father of the child?
Mary: I don’t know.
Joseph: How can that be…?
Mary: I don’t know, really… Look at this tree… I don’t know who planted it, but how many people has it given shade to?
Joseph: Be more specific…
Mary: We never bother about the bow that releases the arrow, but the direction it is heading for… Listen, before I came here, I consulted with my grandfather, Isaiah and he said that….
Mary: And this is all that I know.
Joseph: Why didn’t you tell me before, Mary?
Mary: Because… because I was scared… I was so scared, Joseph…
Joseph: And I was so furious, did you know?
Mary: Aunt Elizabeth has been a great help to me… She advised me a lot…
Joseph: And I was all alone…
Mary: Tell me, Joseph, do you believe everything I’ve told you?… Do you believe me?
Mary: Joseph looked at me in my eyes, firmly held my hands and remained quiet, for some time…
Mary: Do you believe me, Joseph?
Joseph: I love you, Mary. I love you… and if you say that the hand of God is in all this, then let’s see where He’s going to take us… And whatever it is, Mary, you’re still my girl and I’m going to marry you, happen what may!… And I will treat this child like my own!
Mary: How good you are, Joseph!
Elizabeth: You bet, young woman. Nowadays, you don’t always find nice people around anymore!
Mary: Oh, Aunt Elizabeth, what have you been doing there…?
Elizabeth: Well, this is my house, after all. So, shall we hear wedding bells soon?
Joseph: Yes, Ma’am. Mary and I are getting married soon. So, get your things ready, for tomorrow, we shall take the road to the north…
Mary: To Nazareth? Oh, what will they say the moment they see us and…?
Joseph: Let them say what they want, we don’t give a damn, is that right, Ma’am Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: Of course, young man. Let them waste their breath! Only the two of you and the baby matter most… By the way, what name will you give him, Mary, dear?
Mary: I don’t know. The truth is, we haven’t thought about it yet….
Joseph: Why don’t you let me give him the name?… If the baby is a girl, then we’ll call her Mary, like you…. If it’s a boy, we’ll call him… Jacob. Right, Jacob was a brave man… or better, Jesus, like the one who led the people to the promised land… That’s it, Jesus, a name of freedom!
Mary: Very early the following day, we set off for Galilee. The neighbors of Nazareth laughed the moment they saw us together. They were laughing at me, and at Joseph, especially. But Joseph didn’t lose heart because of this, and began with the preparations for our wedding as if nothing had happened…
Rabbi: Joseph, take Mary as your wife, in accordance with the law of Moses. Love her, take good care of her, be true to the word that you have just given before all of us, and may the Lord, our God bless you with many children and may one of them become the Messiah we need.
All: Amen, amen!
A Male Neighbor: Long live the newly-weds!
A Female Neighbor: May they live happily and be blessed with many children!
Jack: And may they not make haste this time!
Male Neighbor: C’mon, let there be music and dance, and let the party last till dawn!
Marriage was formalized in an engagement, although this should not have been consummated nor did it even exist in the marriage contract, which was established only in the wedding proper. But the engaged couple – and such was the case of Joseph and Mary at this moment – were already considered husband and wife. To such a point that if the man died, the woman was considered a widow, for legal purposes. If the woman was found to have committed adultery, she was condemned to death by stoning. If the man wanted to, he could also reject her, by presenting her a suit for divorce. Everything seemed to be tied up to this matrimonial commitment.
Upon learning about Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph thought of various options. One was to repudiate here – divorce her, thus, breaking the engagement – using any reason allowed by law (for example, some defects he might have discovered in Mary, physical or moral). Another one was to charge her of adultery, unfaithful to her word, for which Mary could have been stoned to death by her neighbors in Nazareth. Or that of leaving the village, making him a coward in the eyes of his neighbors and then, due to Mary’s condition, become the laughing stock of all his countrymen.
Because of his love for Mary, whom he loved deeply, Joseph chose another way that was not legalistic nor cowardly, that of fleeing. He accepted what had happened, he trusted the word of his wife and accepted the child like his own, protecting Mary from the whole village, that no one would ostracize her. It was a decision inspired by his love for her, the decision of a “just” man, as the gospel says. Just in its most profound meaning, which is never that of the one who acts according to the law, but according to the spirit, of the one who acts according to the most profound feelings of affection, solidarity and trust.
In order to dispel the terrible doubts experienced by Joseph, the evangelist Mark makes an angel appear in his dreams, to give him back peace and strength to take the decision of accepting Mary and the child to be born. In the Bible, the angel is always God’s messenger. In this case, his message is that of hope. Joseph must not fear, God always loves life and asks Joseph to accept the life that is beginning to form in his wife’s womb. On the other hand, to speak of a dream is a way of telling the lectors to relate this Joseph of Nazareth with the patriarch, Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. In his dreams God revealed to Joseph what was going to happen to him, to his brothers, to his people, during those years of the beginning of slavery in Egypt. He also interpreted the pharaoh’s dreams (Gen 37:5-11; 40:1-15; 41:1-36). In his dreams, Joseph of Nazareth was informed of the definitive liberation from all forms of slavery through Jesus, the son that Mary was to have. The relation between these two Josephs, just and faithful men, is decisive in understanding the meaning of this evangelical text.
Mary and Joseph were a man and a woman who found their way of faith through doubts, conflicts and tension. In accepting Jesus, the two accepted life and the God of life who gifted them with the child. That was an act of faith and hope, made easy by their love for one another. When they got married, they did not know what would become of that child, what would become of them… Palestine in those times was a territory rocked by great political and social pressures. The life of the farmers was difficult; it meant hard work and utter poverty. These were the years that preceded the definitive incorporation of Israel as a province of the Roman empire. Insecurity was the patrimony of the poor. In spite of this, and notwithstanding all personal problems, Joseph and Mary welcomed that boy, whom they would bring up with all enthusiasm.
In a rustic setting like that of Nazareth, weddings were occasions in which the whole town participated. The celebration, which lasted up to seven days, consisted of singing, dancing, and drinking much wine. The latter was an essential element of any wedding. After these days, it was customary for the couple to live in the house of the groom’s family. There are no existing data regarding this aspect of Joseph and Mary’s life. Yet, in Nazareth they were able to preserve the posterior wall of a stone cave which has been venerated as the “the house of Mary,” since the 2nd century, where the family was believed to have spent those years in Nazareth. This piece of the house is found in the interior of the Basilica of the Assumption, a very huge temple built a few years ago in Nazareth. This is evidence of a well-confirmed historical authenticity, showing the extreme poverty in which Jesus grew up. Near this place is another house which is venerated as the house “of the holy family,” although this is not historically confirmed.