Thursday, March 19, 2009

Joseph, We Hardly Knew Ye, Part Two

In my earlier post today, I entered the area of speculation when I mentioned:
"Some traditions suggest that (Joseph) and Mary had other children..."

This refers to Matthew 12:46-47(NIV):
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."

There are similar passages in the other Gospels: Mark 3:31, Luke 8:19; and John 2:12.

So what gives here?

When these passages are discussed, the position among Catholics is that the word 'brother' has a broader meaning in biblical culture than it does to us today. They refer to these 'brothers' as we would 'cousins.' Remember, that Mary and Elizabeth are cousins (Luke 1) and that John the Baptist is Elizabeth's son. That makes Jesus and John the Baptist second cousins, or first cousins once removed - I can never keep that straight; just like reading those long genealogies that pop up in the Bible.

Catholics are taught that Mary is a perpetual virgin, and that Jesus was the only child she bore. To have had other children would negate the definition of her virginity.

Suppose, though, that Joseph was married and became a single father and a widower before he became engaged to Mary. It was not impossible. Though there is no basis in Scripture to support it, this would explain that Jesus' 'brothers' were in fact half-brothers. This would also keep Mary's perpetual virginity intact.

I'll offer yet two other speculations.

All of the Old Testament prophesies indicated that the Messiah would be born from the lineage of King David. Matthew and Luke go to lengths in the genealogies they present to prove that Joseph is of David's lineage. But Jesus is not his child, so that proof is moot. To fulfill the prophecies, Mary must also be of the Davidic line, which is assumed but never proven in Scripture.

It is not essential to the Christian faith who these 'brothers' of Jesus are or where they came from. For that matter, Mary's perpetual virginity could be seen in the way she was devoted to God, regardless of whether or not she bore any other children. Indeed, Christians are all brothers and sisters with Jesus, out of the act of love in which he gave his life.

In the hubbub surrounding Irish Herit---I mean, St. Patrick's Day, another saint's observance (also all but ignored because it occurs in Lent) got by me. Shame on me!!! He's no lightweight, either - and a lot of legends surround this individual's contributions to the beginnings of Christianity.

I'm speaking of Joseph of Arimathea, who is venerated as a saint by the Catholic, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglican churches. His feast day is March 17 in the West, July 31 in the East. This Joseph was a man of wealth, possibly a merchant or tradesman whose business caused him to travel. He was, according to accounts in the Gospels, a member of the Sanhedrin - the Jewish council that advised the chief priests. He and Nicodemus were secretly disciples of Jesus. Upon Jesus' death Joseph immediately purchased fine linen (Mark 15:46) and proceeded to Golgotha to take the body down from the cross. There, assisted by Nicodemus, he took the body and wrapped it in the fine linen, sprinkling it with the myrrh and aloes that Nicodemus had brought (John 19:39). The body was then conveyed to a new tomb that had been hewn for Joseph himself out of a rock in his garden nearby.

A series of legends grew around him during the Middle Ages, which tied him to Britain and the Holy Grail; the chalice used by Jesus at the Passover Seder before his crucifixion (the Last Supper). Some speculate that Joseph and Jesus travelled to the British Isles prior to the beginning of his public ministry; those 'lost' years between 12 and 30 where nothing is recorded in Scripture. Others speculate that it was the resurrected Jesus who appeared to Joseph on a journey to Britain (and when he received the Grail and other 'relics').

A number of historians of the period, notably Tertullian, Eusebius, and Hippolytus, all wrote indicating that Christianity had reached the British Isles ahead of Roman emissaries or missionaries. The time in which these wrote (as early as 170 and possibly as late as 340) were ahead of the birth of Patrick, whose life we honored two days ago. If indeed with God "all things are possible" as the Lord Himself said (and as is sung on occasion at any number of churches), do we deny that God might have as part of his ultimate Plan those elements that we cannot possibly fathom or understand??

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

William Blake

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