Saintly Snark – A Reflection for the Feast of St. Joseph

By Sr. M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

Know any Christmas-y songs about St. Joseph? No? Well, I know only one, and I cherish it because it’s midrash-like: it goes behind the scene, and evokes a rich line of thought (one of the purposes of midrash).

Actually, the scene is set after Christmas, when Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus are fleeing to Egypt to evade Herod’s soldiers, coming to execute all baby boys who could pose a threat to Herod’s power (think “the Holy Innocents”, whom we celebrated a couple of days after Christmas, bringing us back with a thud from all the holiday sweetness and light).

It’s one long trek to Egypt by foot and donkey, so the family takes a break when Mary sees a cherry tree up ahead. Some juicy cherries sound wonderful to her, so the song reports her request of Joseph to pick some for her.

Snarkily, Joseph replies, “Let the father of the baby pick cherries for you.” Wow! Was he ruminating during that whole long trip over Mary’s pregnancy- without-his-involvement, and the resultant upending of all their happy plans together? (Unexpected pregnancies and other life-altering events have been known to make good, even saintly, people snarky and then some!).

There’s no record of Mary’s reply – perhaps she was stunned to silence by her spouse’s uncharacteristic testiness. But someone else does reply: that “father of the baby” causes the cherry tree to bend down far enough for Mary to pick her own cherries!

I suspect the stunned silence shifted to Joseph, who had to rejoice in such an emphatic affirmation of the baby boy’s true origin, putting to rest all Joseph’s anger, hurt and bitterness.

Of course, “The Cherry Tree Carol” is made up: there’s no mention of cherries in the scriptures, as far as I know. But in the department of “be careful what you wish for”, could this be any better a response?

So many conversations could grow from this rich, imaginative carol! What could you say to Joseph? To Mary? Even to baby Jesus?