St Joseph and Bilbo Baggins

I’m grateful to the Holy Spirit for sending inspiration for homilies from the most unlikely places. I was reading Devin Brown’s delightful little book, Hobbit Lessons: A Map for Life’s Unexpected Journeys which teaches simple life lessons from Bilbo’s unexpected journey.

Bilbo follows the classic hero’s quest. He’s in his ordinary world–which is a snug, safe and secure hobbit hole when the wizard comes knocking. He hears the call to adventure and refuses the call before finally accepting the challenge.

Likewise St Joseph. We don’t know much from Scripture about St Joseph, but tradition portrays him as an older, respectable, godly Jewish gentleman. Like Bilbo, I envision St Joseph as fairly well to do, having worked hard to build up a first family, a decent business and in middle age that he has reached a certain comfort level. Poor Mary is a young girl alone in the world and as was the custom, he become betrothed to her as a way of looking after her–taking her into his home to eventually be his wife.

Then comes the interruption. She’s pregnant. That wasn’t supposed to happen. The nice sweet holy girl they all loved and admired turns out to be a bad girl. So Joseph resolves to do the respectable thing. He decides to divorce her quietly. Best thing to do. After all, the people, once they find out, will assume that he is the one who got her in the family way. “What!” he can already hear the village gossips chortling, “nice, good godly Joseph! Such a wise and respectable man! He got her pregnant didn’t he! The dirty old man…” So to avoid scandal and to lose virtually everything he decides to get rid of Mary.

Then the second call to adventure. The angel says, “Fear Not!” Bilbo. Err I mean St Joseph decides to set out on the adventure anyway. Who cares what those old gossips think anyway? Of course nobody will believe the tale about the child being “of the Holy Spirit” be he does and she does and that’s all that matters. He sets out on the unexpected journey and finds the greatest treasure of all.

Joseph is one of the ones I’d call an ordinary hero. That is any ordinary person who hears the call to adventure and sets out to do something daring and beautiful for God.

The strange thing is that we have this instinct to create nests, to build comfort zones, to spend for and defend our hobbit holes–those safe, snug, secure little worlds. Furthermore, we use our religion to help boost our respectability, make ourselves feel good about ourselves, defend our little cliques and comfort zones. When we do we are using religion for exactly the opposite of what is intended. Religion is supposed to be the way we hear the call to adventure and set out from our comfort zones to do something daring and beautiful for God–something daring and beautiful which makes our own life worth living…

…and which leads us to great treasure and a kingdom which is beyond the imagination of anyone in a comfort zone.