Continuing a series of entries in an imaginary journal, as we think about what might have been in the mind of Mary.
“God has sent the rich away empty.”
The government has ordered a census. Some officious idiot in Rome thinks it’s nothing to drag whole populations back to family homesteads just so they can make sure they’re not missing out on even a dime of tax money. Because of them, because Joseph is a descendant of King David—I am, too, because David and Solomon had many children; but nobody cares about my lineage—we are on our way to Bethlehem. This is our eighth day, with Joseph walking all the time and me walking some and riding a donkey some, and with at least two more days to go to get there. As pregnant as I am, with the baby due any day, neither walking nor sitting on a donkey is comfortable at all, not for long. I’m even worried about whether the baby will survive, but I have to trust that to God, as the Romans gave us no choice.
Not only am I uncomfortable. Not only am I worried about the baby. I am pretty steamed when I think about other people like us, all through Israel—all through the Empire, even—who are struggling and scraping and having our lives upended like this while people of means, people with political and social connections, are finding all sorts of reasons not to have to travel far at all. It is all monstrously unfair, and just plain lousy. But, while God calls the strong to look out for the weak and to appreciate the strengths that those the world considers “weak” have that we might not ever see without looking, the world is rather fixed on the idea that everyone should look out for themselves. The rich—maybe not all of them, but far too many of them—seem to use their power to get more of the same.
So it may be the hemorrhoids talking, but, when I think about God sending the rich away empty, I really like the idea that they are having the tables turned on them. I get some real satisfaction out of the thought of Herod or Caesar or even some of the Pharisees down in Capernaum having to beg for alms by the side of the road; I mean, they can’t possibly have any skills to earn an honest living, can they? At the very least, it would be great to see them struggle from job to job, like just about everyone in this village.
Of course, when I think about it some more, I realize that makes God out to be a vindictive old so-and-so, and, as I think on that some more, it seems to me there’s another possibility. All of us who are hungry, those of us who live our lives empty, are filled with good things—food and things we need to survive, sure, but more than that. God has filled those of us who are empty by the world’s standards with an understanding that helps us appreciate things beyond money and property. All of that is more difficult for those whom the world considers rich and powerful; they have too many shiny things to look at, and would never know to go looking for what God considers important.
That makes me think that perhaps God send the rich away empty is a bit of an act of grace. There are, to God’s way of thinking, better things with which to be filled. Perhaps God empties the rich in order to give them a chance to experience the things that people like us can experience, to understand the grace and love of God that transcends worldly things.
Well, I certainly hope there is something in the ways of God that transcends sitting on that blasted donkey when this child is so big inside of me. Another couple days of this, and then . . .
. . . oh my, did Joseph make a reservation for us to stay somewhere?