The Gospels tell us little about Mary other than to say that she was a
But life in Nazareth was difficult for everyone, not just women. Life expectancy was in the 30s. Those who reached 60 were rare. In “Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit,” a fascinating study of daily Jewish life in Nazareth, the scholar Jodi Magness points out that we tend to view the life of the Holy Family through a “highly sanitized lens.” Garbage and sewage were tossed outside into the alleyways, perhaps by Mary herself. Magness describes conditions in Galilee as “filthy, malodorous and unhealthy.”Joseph is described in the Gospels as a
You can detect growing discomfort with this lower-class status in the Gospel narratives. When Jesus reveals his divine identity in Mark, the earliest Gospel, people say, “Is this not the
Jesus worked as a
We must keep in mind that our Christmas cards are miles away from the reality of the Holy Family’s existence. We must remember that the three of them looked more like the poor Syrian refugees on the news than the well-fed (and usually white) actors who play them in films. We must remember that it is into a life of simplicity, hiddenness and poverty that Jesus came.
We must remember that he was, most likely, poor.
God could have entered the world in any place or family that God chose. God could have become human in a great ruling family in Judea. God could have entered into humanity in a wealthy Galilean family, perhaps as the child of a well-traveled and well-read merchant or scholar. More to the point, God could have chosen to be born into the Roman dynasty, in line to become emperor, to exercise and demonstrate maximum power.
Instead, God chose to enter a family headed by a man with a simple profession, married to a woman who, from outward appearances, was no different than the other poor women in their joke of a town.
Is it any surprise, then, that Jesus felt such intense compassion for the poor and marginalized? That he constantly asked his disciples to care for the poor, the sick, the forgotten, the stranger? He was one of these throwaway people, and he lived among them for 30 years before his public ministry began. Christians tend to see Jesus’ commands to care for the poor as divine. And they were — Jesus was fully divine. But they also came from his human experience. He was fully human as well. I’m always amazed by people who feel they can be Christian without caring for the poor. Not only did Jesus command us to do this, Jesus himself was from this class. When God chose to join us, he joined us in Nazareth, to make sure that we wouldn’t forget.