Gold, Frankincense and More 12.06.05

A Revisionist Speculation

Yurac

Lottery winners often fall on bad times. How did that young couple who were gifted Gold, Frankinsnce and Myrrh by three wise men fare in their day? Yurac explores an alternative scenario.

For a lot of people, winning the lottery is the American dream. But for many lottery winners, the reality is more like a nightmare.

William "Bud" Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988 but now lives on his Social Security and food stamps. Within a year of winning, he was $1 million in debt.

Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in the Virginia lottery in 1993. Now she's deeply in debt to a company that lent her money, using her winnings as collateral.

Ken Proxmire was a machinist when he won $1 million in the Michigan lottery. Within five years, he filed for bankruptcy.

Willie Hurt of Lansing, Mich., won $3.1 million in 1989. Two years later he was broke and charged with murder.

Charles Riddle of Belleville, Mich., won $1 million in 1975. Afterward, he got divorced, faced several lawsuits and was indicted for selling cocaine.

Missourian Janite Lee won $18 million in 1993. Eight years after winning, she filed for bankruptcy with only $700 left in two bank accounts and no cash on hand.

Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey lottery not just once, but twice (1985, 1986), to the tune of $5.4 million. Today the money is all gone and she lives in a trailer. "I won the American dream but I lost it, too. It was a very hard fall. It's called rock bottom," said Adams. "Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out."

So this is what seems to happen to poor folks who suddenly get rich. Hmmm. Wasn't there a poor Middle Eastern couple a long time ago that suddenly received a lot of gold, perfume and spices? How did that story go?

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“Behold, there came wise men from the east, ...and when they came into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and... they presented unto him gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” Mt 2:1-11

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The young Jewish couple were poor, a simple carpenter and his pregnant wife. His work was good, but the economy was stagnant. Very little new building had been going on, what with the war and the presence of foreign occupying troops. The occasional project Joseph could find to repair a door or make a table were too few and far between to make ends meet. Even finding wood to work with in that arid, God-forsaken land was a challenge. The few scrubby bushes Joseph could find along the dry creek beds were hardly enough to make walking sticks, let alone rich men’s staircases or other lucrative projects.

Mary was helpless in this regard, burdened with the weight of imminent pregnancy, and without marketable skills in a society that allowed women to earn money only as prostitutes. She was an odd one, this one, with her strange dreams of night visitors who left her mysteriously pregnant. Joe knew better, but he said little. He was too kind to let her suffer the embarrassment of unwed childbirth, so he proposed when her belly became too large to hide, and she accepted. They had a private ceremony with the local rabbi. There was the inevitable gossip, of course, and the whispering, but the young couple were stoic and accepted the situation.

The taxation decree came as a blow. It was hard enough to pay the rent on their room in the low-income section of Nazareth, and Mary was so close to delivery as to make traveling dangerous. Now, of all times, the occupying Romans demanded that they travel to Bethlehem, 70 miles away, to be counted and to pay taxes with money they didn’t have. His sandals were worn, and he could not afford to buy new ones. Joe was angry, for he knew that the trip would be hard, even if he borrowed his brother’s young burro for Mary to ride. He pleaded with the tax collector for a three-month extension to get through the childbirth and to raise the tax money, but his pleas fell upon deaf ears and derision.

And so it was that Joe and Mary set off one spring morning for the long trip to Bethlehem. Shepherds were in the fields 24/7 at that time of the year, protecting the new-born lambs from predators. They watched the couple pass, lost in the long procession of discouraged people trudging along the dusty country road. Most were on foot, but from time to time a well-dressed religious leader would trot by on horseback, scattering the unfortunate lay people and coating them with dust and road grit. Mary held her belly and covered her face with her shawl, while Joe masked his face with a cloth. All day they crawled through the slow-moving traffic, the lurching burro causing Mary much discomfort. The sun was sinking in the west, when Mary clutched at her belly.

"I don’t think I can make it to Bethlehem,” she said.

“We have to make it,” said Joe, “or the Romans will imprison me, and you will have no one to care for you and that baby of yours.”

“My water just broke,” she replied. “We have to stop. The baby is coming right now!”

“There’s an inn just ahead,” said Joe. “I’ll see if we can get a room.”

“With all this traffic, and so late in the day, it will surely be full,” said Mary, “and besides, how do you propose to pay for it, with our tax money? We can’t even afford to eat. How can we pay for a room? We’re not Pharisees.”

"I’ll see if we can camp out in their stable,” said Joe.

“Oh, great,” said Mary. “What a great provider you’ve turned out to be! Here I am, hungry, thirsty, dirty, tired and bleeding, and you want to go camping so I can deliver my baby amidst cow manure and flies. That is just perfect, just perfect! O, God, why have you forsaken me?”

“Keep God out of this,” Joe said, “It’s not his fault.”

“God! It hurts!” cried Mary. “Get me off this burro NOW!”

Joe guided the burro into the stable and helped his laboring wife settle upon an old blanket that he spread upon the fresh hay in an unused stall.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” shouted the angry stable keeper, who was leading three finely saddled camels into the stable. On each camel’s saddle was a sign saying “Orient Trading Co., Perveyors of Fine Perfumes and Spices, Afar, Jordan.”

“Get that burro out of here!” yelled the stable keeper. “That feed costs money! And take that wench with you, too. This is no place to deliver a baby!”

“We have no money,” begged Joe, “and my wife is about to deliver.”

“I can see that, but you should have thought about all this when you were having your way with her. It’s a bit late to start planning now,” he laughed scornfully. “Get out of this stall! Do your pathetic thing in the back, on the manure pile. It’s soft.”

Joe moved Mary to the back of the stable and laid her on his blanket amidst the foul-smelling refuse and flies. Then he tied up the burro outside.

“It hurts so bad!” cried Mary.

“Breathe! Push! Breathe! Push” coached Joe.

The stable manager stood by, watching the spectacle. He was soon joined by the stable boy, some shepherds and various travelers. Someone offered a clean blanket in which to wrap the child, and another suggested using the manger on the wall for a crib, packing it with clean, fresh-smelling hay.

“Would someone get me some light?” shouted Joe. “I can’t see what I’m doing!”

The child’s head was crowning when a commotion arose outside.

“What the hell is that?” someone shouted, pointing into the night sky.

“There’s a bright light in the sky!” someone else screamed. “Come look, everybody!”

“Not just now,” muttered Joe, who was preoccupied.

“What is it?” yelled a shepherd.

“It’s moving! It’s coming this way!” exclaimed a traveler coming off the road. “Run for your lives! It’s the end of the world! Oh my God!”

Without warning, a brilliant bluish light illuminated the stable. Everyone stopped, immobilized and speechless. Everything was as bright as noontime, yet the shadows were as deep as midnight. Something brilliant and noiseless floated silently in the night sky above the stable.

“That’s a great lantern,” said Joe, with his back turned. “Hold it there for a bit, would you? That’s good! And hand me that blanket. Jesus! It’s a boy!”

As mysteriously and suddenly as it had appeared, the brilliance disappeared, leaving all who had seen it stunned, their eyes blind in the sudden darkness.

“Turn that lantern back on,” barked Joe, fumbling in the pitch blackness.

“That was no lantern,” said a shepherd.

“I don’t care what you call it!” said Joe. “Just give me some light.”

A lantern was soon lit, and a crowd gathered around to watch the newborn suckle. The women moved in, protectively, shooing the men outside.

“Go on, now! The show’s over. Stop your gawking. Show some respect. Now move!”

“But I’m the father,” protested Joe, and the women reluctantly let him stay, but kept him at a distance, as if he were diseased.

Outside, the crowd had grown. Waves of insistent mutterings and whisperings surged through the assembled masses, and many pointed at the sky, talking excitedly with their neighbors. Guests from the inn came outside, wondering what the commotion was about.

Three well-dressed traders emerged, speaking a foreign language. When their questions were not understood, they tried the few local words they had picked up on their trip.

“What happened?” one of the traders asked the crowd in his imperfect Aramaic.

“Who are you guys?” someone asked suspiciously.

“Melchior Weissman, perfume and spice salesman,” said the man. “And these are my brothers Gaspar and Balthazar.”

“Where are you from?”

“We come from Afar, Jordan. But tell me what happened here.”

“Oh God! I was so scared!” a young shepherd replied in Aramaic, talking too fast. “A bright light came out of the heavens and lit up the stable, where a baby was being born. What a God-send! Can you believe it? A son! Jesus! I’ve never been so scared in all my life! I’ll never forget this, if I live forever!”

“What did he say?” asked Gaspar.

“Something about a light from Heaven, a God-son named Jesus and living forever,” responded Melchior.

“I think he said this baby is Jesus, the Son of God, who brings immortality,” interpreted Balthazar.

“You mean the one to be named Immanuel, the Messiah, as foretold by Isaiah in the ancient scriptures?” asked Gaspar.

“Yeah, that’s the one,” replied Balthazar.

“Can’t be,” concluded Gaspar.

“Why not?” asked his brother.

“His sign’s wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“Messiahs are always Capricorns, born around the winter solstice, not in the spring, when the shepherds are in their fields by night,” said Gaspar.

“Oh yeah. I forgot,” said Balthazar.

“Besides, finding a Messiah is a really big deal, and all we have is flimsy anecdotal evidence to go on,” said Melchior.

“But what about that strange moving light we saw in the sky west of here the other night? Maybe these folks saw the same thing?” said Balthazar.

“Maybe,” said Melchior.

“Let’s go see the kid in any case,” said the Gaspar. “Maybe his name really is Immanuel, as foretold. Then we’d have something.” With that, the three Weissmans walked into the stable to investigate.

 

“Who are those guys?” asked Arad, one of the shepherds.

“Three wise Orient men from Afar,” said the stable hand.

"Wow!" said Arad, "Wait until I tell mom!"

"Don't you dare!" said the stable hand. "She is the biggest gossip around."

"She'll find out anyway," said Arad.

 

A single lantern burned in the dim back corner of the filthy stable. Dust was heavy in the air, which reeked of animal urine and manure. Cows lowed and sheep shifted uneasily at the smell of blood.

“I’ll get my beautiful robe dirty in this filthy place,” said Melchior. “Bring baby out here!” he commanded one of the shepherds in broken Aramaic.

”Who made you three kings?” said Arad, the shepherd. “Those women won’t even let the boy’s father get close. They won’t be bringing any baby out here. You can forget that!”

“Here,” said Melchior, handing Arad a gold coin. “There’s more where that came from! We want to see the Son of God, the Light of the Universe, the Savior of Mankind!”

“Really?” cried Arad, grabbing the coin and ducking into the stable. “Ill see what I can do, sir!”

 

Soon he returned, saying “The Holy Mother Mary will allow you to see her illustrious Son of God, the Light of the Universe, the Savior of Mankind, but just for a minute. She’s very tired.”

“Great!” said Melchior, passing Arad into the dim interior.

“Not so fast, buddy!” said Arad to Gaspar, who was following his brother into the stable. “Everybody’s gotta pay! What do you have?”

Fumbling in his pockets, Gaspar pulled out a bulging bag of incense and offered a selection to the gatekeeper.

Recognizing the market value of high-quality frankincense, the wise shepherd admitted Gaspar, but stopped Balthazar.

“What do you have, stranger?” Arad asked him.

“Gold or frankincense works,” advised Gaspar, ducking into the interior.

“All I have is aromatic myrrh unquent for embalming,” replied Balthazar, searching the pockets of his robe. "It works great for dry camel hands. It should work great for dry sheep hands too!"

Arad took it, smelling it and rubbing it gratefully onto his chapped hands. “Go on in," he said, "but you can’t stay long.”

The three traders gathered around the mother and child, agape and in wonder.

“Baby God Son?” asked Melchior in halting Aramaic.

Mary looked at him skeptically.

“What do you want?” she asked.

Melchior dug out another gold coin and offered it to Mary, which she took, her eyes widening, a big smile breaking into her sweet face.

“Name Baby Son God?” Melchior tried again.

“Jesus!” said Mary. “I can’t understand you immigrants at all. Why don’t you respect us enough to learn our language?”

“Jesus name God Son Immanuel?” asked Gaspar, offering some frankincense.

“Thank you,” said Mary. “Yes, I mean you well, too, but come back tomorrow, and bring more gifts for my Son of God, Light of the Universe, Savior of Mankind. Now you must go. I’m tired.”

“Big light Heaven. Boy Jesus, son of God, life everlasting?” spluttered Balthazar, offering his myrrh embalming salve.

“Thank you. Yes, all of that and more, just bring more gifts,” she said, and the perfume salesmen departed, speaking excitedly among themselves. The word "Jesus" could be heard from time to time. Joe, observing everything from the corner, smiled, praisingGod for the sudden abundance that was manifesting in his life.

 

“Joe,” Mary called, “Why are we staying in this filthy place? We have a lot of money now -- gold, frankincense and myrrh. Let’s get a real room. Nothing is too fine for Jesus, the Son of God, Light of the Universe, and Savior of Mankind!”

 

Taking a bright gold coin, Joe went to see the innkeeper, who quickly found an unexpected vacancy for them, and they moved into spacious quarters that very night, cleaning up and getting some well-earned rest.

“What shall we call the boy, Mary?” asked Joe after settling into their new room.

“Jesus!” said Mary. “I can’t believe you didn’t pick that up. You are so dense! He has to be named Jesus.”

“All right,” said Joe. “I was thinking Joseph might be a nice name, considering all I‘ve done for you....”

“Forget it,” said Mary. “Let’s get some rest while the baby’s sleeping. I’m totally wasted.”

Early the next morning came a knock on the door. The innkeeper was there, with a hot breakfast on a tray.

“You have visitors downstairs,” he said. “They say you have the Christ child here.”

“What’s a Christ?” asked Mary.

“It’s a Son of God who gives believers eternal life,” replied

“Christ! Yeah! We’ve got one of those!” said Joe, slowly catching on, “but they must bring us riches. It’s a great honor to be given the gift of eternal life. It’s not free!”

“Of course, sir,” said the innkeeper. “Shall I send them up?”

“Not just yet,” said Mary. “They must wait for us to finish this sumptuous breakfast. Where did you find this Gefilte Fish? It’s the best I’ve ever tasted! And the olives and the wine. Really nice place you have here! Say, why don’t you be a saint and hold the believers’ gifts for us? You can keep a small portion for your trouble, and bring the rest up later. OK?”

“I’d be delighted,” said the innkeeper, respectfully closing the door.

“You know,” said Mary later, reflecting upon the glittering pile of gifts in the corner, “Why don’t you run over to Bethlehem tomorrow and pay our taxes? Tell them I am indisposed, with a newborn, and cannot be moved. Then stop by that new chariot dealer and buy us something that is truly suitable for the Son of God, with a white stallion maybe. OK? Nothing is too good for the Light of the Universe. I’ll stay here and collect more gifts from visitors. OK?”

“All right,” replied Joe, sorting the riches into piles of equivalent value. “But who’s going to watch the treasure when you’re sleeping? Anyone could sneak in and take some.”

“What about the innkeeper?”

“I don’t trust him. I think he took more than his fair share today.”

“Really?”

“It’s possible. There’s no accounting here. We could be losing out, and we wouldn’t know it.”

“Let’s get back to Nazareth, Joe,” said Mary. “I want to look at houses.”

“Houses? What’s wrong with our rented hovel in the slum?” asked Joe.

“Joe. Listen to me. We have God’s only Son here with us. He is the Savior of Mankind, the Messiah, the giver of eternal life. No one will respect him if he lives in a hovel. And my clothes -- look at them -- they are filthy rags! God would not be pleased to have his son’s mother dressed in patched-up rags. I am God’s wife, for heaven’s sake, and I going to have to dress the part. We’ll go shopping on the way back. There is that new high-end garment shop down by the Jordan River. Why don’t we stop there, Joe? Huh? And you could use new sandals, too!”

“My sandals will probably last another year,” said Joe doubtfully.

“Don’t start up with that doubt stuff,” said Mary. “We have a gold mine here and all you can think about is yourself. Give me a break! What we need here is belief. If you can’t provide me anything else, at least give me that.”

“Joe?” said Mary as her husband prepared to leave for the tax office in Bethlehem the next morning, “Take a little more treasure with you and buy a chariot trailer. We won’t have room in the chariot for all the gifts and the new chariot seat for the baby. OK?”

“All right,” said Joe, unaccustomed to hauling treasures among the unwashed heathens and robbers that surely infested the road to Bethlehem. “You know, dear,” he added, “Why don’t we look for a new house in that walled community outside the gates of town? They have centurions on duty all day and night. We could keep our treasures there and not have to worry so much about them. And the guards could frisk the host of gift-bearers to make sure that they had enough treasure and weren’t carrying weapons.”

“Joe, you surprise me sometimes. You’re really thinking now. Good idea! And you can tell the believers to come up now, one at a time, and I’ll receive their gifts. Bye, dear.”

“Bye,” said Joe, as he staggered out, carrying a heavy pack that clinked mysteriously as he walked.

“And you come right back in that new chariot, hear? None of that joy-riding around and carrying on. You hear me, Joseph? And no stopping by for a glass of wine, either! Hey! And stay away from those harlots! They’re no good! Hey! I’m talking to you! You hear me, Joe! Joe?”

And the rest, as we know, is history. Perhaps.

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