Ben Wright

Email: bwright_uk@yahoo.com


‘… Rising from his sleep, Joseph did as the angel had directed him; he took Mary home to be his wife, but had no intercourse with her until her son was born.’

‘Whoa, wait a fricking-fracking minute.’  Joseph scooted forward to the edge of his seat, his hand held up in front of him.

‘Joseph!  Language.’  Mary shifted in her chair, her tightly crossed knees turning slightly away from her husband.

Matthew sighed as he put down the scroll and looked across the wide expanse of his desk at the elderly couple.  He’d known from the beginning it was a mistake to give the Messiah’s rather dull and uneducated parents any sort of editorial involvement with the Gospel.  But the Messiah had been insistent and what the Messiah wanted, the Messiah usually got.  He locked down his frustration and forced a measured tone into his voice.

‘What exactly is the problem, Joseph?’

‘The intercourse thing.  The whole world needs to know we didn’t play hide-the-sausage for a year?’

‘It’s important that people know Mary was a virgin.’

‘A virgin!  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Half the plumbers in Bethlehem –’

‘What’s crucial here,’ Matthew leaned forward on his desk to cut Joseph off, ‘is that Mary is seen to have been a virgin at the time of conception.  Otherwise people will throw doubts over the authenticity of the immaculate conception.  And that is one thing we can’t have.’

‘Well excuse me and my private life, I’m very sure.’

Matthew shook his head.  The naivety was almost charming.  Almost.

‘You’re the stepfather of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Holy Messiah, the Saviour.  You’re a celebrity, Joseph, I’m afraid you don’t get a private life.’

‘A celebrity?’

Joseph ran a hand down his long white beard and considered this.  It wasn’t like he hadn’t known what he was getting into.  A great big fricking angel suddenly appears in your living room, wings knocking over ornaments and candlesticks as they unfurled, you know this isn’t your common-or-garden one-too-many-whiskies type of vision.  This was the real deal, the top banana, the Big Kahuna.  And after all the angel had only said ‘no intercourse’ – back in those days Mary could suck a Trigon ball through a twelve-foot length of garden hose, so it wasn’t exactly that much of a hardship.  And some of the young worshippers had been, well, most … accommodating.  But that wasn’t really the point.  Still, a celebrity …

‘What sort of celebrity?’

Matthew put the gospel to one side and consulted his notes. 

‘Well, apart from being generally revered, you’ll also be made a saint.’  He looked over the rim of the spectacles.  ‘March the nineteenth be OK for your feast day?’

Joseph reached forward and put a hand on the edge of Matthew’s desk, tried to pretend he wasn’t quite reeling from shock.  He puffed his chest out slightly and cleared his throat.

‘March, you say… I suppose it’ll be spring then, not too hot for a feast, not too cold.  Yes,’ he blew out a breath.  ‘I think March would be OK.’

Matthew remembered something the Messiah once told him. ‘Sincerity,’ Jesus had said, elbowing him in the ribs as the crowd applauded after a particularly well-received speech on the drawbacks on stoning.  ‘If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.’ 

He lifted his hands and gave Joseph his most winning smile. 

‘Fathers will consider you the very personification of fatherly solicitude and vigilance.  Virgins,’ Matthew’s voice deepened and he pretended not to see the look of disapproval on Mary’s face, ‘virgins will consider you the model protector of virginal integrity.’

Joseph tapped a staccato beat with his fingers on the corner of the desk.

‘Virginal integrity, eh?’

Matthew nodded.  His notes also said Joseph would become Patron of Holy Death, but it would probably be better to bring that up later.  Joseph had never been very good with stiffs.

‘OK.  OK.’  Joseph dipped his head.  ‘Maybe I can live with that.  After all, like you said, I’ll be seen as a protector, the very personiclifation …’ Joseph cleared his throat.  ‘Whatever you said thing.’

Matthew nodded, his eyebrows drawn down, lips pursed in concentration, as though Joseph had just explained the theory of relativity.  Whatever that was.

‘Very good, Joseph, very good.  May I continue then?’

Joseph leaned back in his chair and reached across with a patriarchal hand to pat his wife on the elbow.  Mary lifted her arm from the chair and folded it across her chest, her lips slicing a thin line across her face.  Joseph waved for Matthew to go on.

Matthew picked up the scroll and ran a finger across the page.

‘Where was I? Oh yes.  And he named the child Jesus.’

Matthew laid down the scroll again, admittedly in rather a theatrical manner, and regarded his guests over the top of his glasses.  Joseph’s expression slowly turned from expectant attentiveness to confusion.

‘What?  That’s it?’

Matthew shrugged.

‘Well, Luke said he’s planning to add something about the Angel Gabriel’s visitation and a few bits and bobs about your family, but, well, yes, that is about the long and the short of it.’

Joseph got to his feet, all former attempts at decorum gone; he tossed his white hair behind him and his eyes grew red with rage.

 ‘After all I’ve been through?  The sleepless nights, the constant questions of “Why this, why that” – as if he didn’t bloody well know already – all those “You’re not my real father anyway” taunts, the teenage years… Oh, and let me tell you, Holy Messiah he might be now, but holy child he bloody well was not.  And as for the whole Herod thing, don’t even get me started on the trouble we …’

Matthew nodded sagely, tuning out Joseph’s rant and glancing through the window to see an ox pulling a cart of vegetables towards the market.  He wondered what it might be like to return to the life of a simple peasant.  No more Gospels, no more dealing with the vagaries of the Messiah, no more having to act holier-than-thou day-in, day-out.  Just a simple existence.  An ox and a cart and a bunch of vegetables.  A small thatched cottage.  A nice plump wife.

Well, it was a nice thought, but he couldn’t quite see himself giving up the privileges of rank that easily.

‘Listen, listen!’ he said, his hands held out to placate Joseph.  ‘This isn’t fixed in stone.  We’re not talking commandments here.  Look, I’ve still got a bit of room in Matthew Two, let’s see if we can’t work something out there.’

As Joseph reluctantly settled back into his chair, Matthew could only wonder at the things he had to go through for his faith.  Still, it could be worse.  At least he hadn’t been given the Psalms.  He really hated poetry.

©2007 Ben Wright

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