There’s been an interesting protest march today in the North East—from Chester-le-Street to Durham Cathedral. The Northumbrian Association is marking St Cuthbert’s Day by also unveiling a petition demanding the return of the historic Lindisfarne Gospels, which were written by monks on the island, and are currently held at the British Library in London. They want the 12 hundred year old books returned to their home where they were written in honour of St Cuthbert.
Now you’ll notice that, just like the Cuthbert Gospels, the saint himself has been displaced today in favour of St. Joseph. Joseph in turn was bumped from his rightful place on the 19th of March by a Sunday of Lent.
I don’t know how Cuthbert would feel about it but Joseph should be used to displacement. The title of the feast says it all—Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The poor man is displaced within this, his own feast.
Our snatch from Matthew’s gospel rubs it in. It’s the end of that long, long genealogy: Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of her was born Jesus. Joseph is just to the side of where the action happens. Joseph is held up in scripture as one who doesn’t do something—he doesn’t divorce Mary. By being her husband he lets her birth a boy to change the world.
Now, Joseph gets to shine in his own right in few weeks time as patron of human labour but right here we get to celebrate with him all the ways we are displaced, off-centre—eccentric even—in the service of the gospel. Our own worth, the worth of our efforts, the worth of our lives, is ultimately in the hands of eternity, in the hands of God. Who knows the upshot of our following Jesus, the outcome of our discipleship? We are outshone by brighter stars, overshadowed by bolder, nimbler, more creative apostles but who knows how God will bless our humbler efforts—even the chances we imagine lost, the decisions we regret, the gifts we seem to squander—even those in God’s creative care can change the world.
This reminds me of the staircase attributed to St. Joseph in New Mexico.
It reminds me of Thomas a Kempis and The Imitation of Christ. He wrote that for his fellow monks, I believe, and over the centuries since then it has been read by many, many people. The book is largely about humility, by a humble man who never really received recognition for it. But the impact of the book has been tremendous.
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