A Roman Soldier Takes Charge

Another excerpt from Bethlehem's Baby for your reading pleasure.

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As the world changes... so many things stay the same...

~ 16 ~


(Luke 2:1-4)
In a town called Bethlehem, near a city called Jerusalem, in a country called Judea, in the great and wonderful Roman Empire, a riot was brewing. Too many people had all traveled at once to the little town, to stay with their relatives in their ancestral homes and be registered with the Roman government. It was total chaos. The government probably thought all these people lived in palaces, or at least in nice clean city blocks with nice tidy houses built in squares with plenty of room and lots of obedient servants. But that’s not how it was at all. Bethlehem was all higgledy-piggledy streets with tiny two-room houses built over caves that the families used for stables. It was dirty, cramped and smelly. And, above all, it was so noisy! And so uncivilized, thought the smartly dressed Roman soldier who spoke three languages, including perfect Latin and a rather oddly accented Aramaic, but no Hebrew. And there was a riot brewing.

The Romans had told all the people to go and be registered in their ‘ancestral cities’ without really thinking what the people would do. Bethlehem simply was not a city by Roman standards. But it was the ancestral home of anyone who belonged to the Jewish tribe of David. All the men who belonged to the tribe of David owned land there. So all the men who belonged to the tribe of David had traveled there, often with their wives and families, the odd sheep, a few goats, and lots of donkeys. Relatives opened up their homes for them to stay in, but there’s a limit to how many people can sleep on the floor of a tiny two-room house. The combination of too many people, not enough room, too much noise, and a troop of Roman soldiers marching the streets was seriously dangerous, to say the least.

The Roman soldier did his best to be polite. “Just go over there and someone will take your name,” he told yet another potential taxpayer. Just how much tax did Rome think it was going to get from tiny plots of land shared between fifteen sons? “Yes, that man will take your name.” He tried to ignore the taxpayer muttering, “He’ll take my money too.”

“You’ll need to tell him your address,” said the soldier earnestly. But of course, with higgledy-piggledy streets in a place where everyone knew everyone else, nobody needed addresses. “Okay, just tell him whose houses are to either side of you.”

“Jacob, Jesse, Jeremiah, Joshua, Joseph, Joses, Josiah and all his brothers too. Which name do you want?” came the answer.

“Well, tell him who owns the houses.” But everyone owned the houses, all the sons, even the daughters sometimes. “Well, tell him who lives there now, today.” Except everybody was living in Bethlehem today because the Romans had told them to. It was a hopeless mess thought the soldier. “Tell him who lived here six weeks ago then,” he groaned, thinking this job was driving him crazy.

Another family arrived. A weary man led a donkey with a woman on its back. “And you are?” the soldier asked.

“Joseph,” said the man warily. “And this is my wife Mary. And she’s going to have a baby.”

Oh no! That was just what the soldier didn’t need. Not a pregnant woman giving birth on the street to add to the total chaos. Someone was shouting. Someone was threatening. Someone was accusing the taxman of deliberately falsifying documents. A troop of soldiers marched forward, swords drawn, and the man called Joseph hurried away with his wife and donkey down a side street.

The noise calmed down eventually and the soldier checked the lines of people in case anyone needed help. He could see Joseph ushering his pregnant wife into a tiny house while children fell out through the doorway almost tripping over her—then Joseph scooped them back in. The soldier hoped the poor lady would find a place to rest, especially with the baby coming soon. He hoped she’d be safe. He wanted the best for her and he wasn’t really a bad man—just a Roman doing his job. Then someone threw a stone at the taxman and the soldier turned his thoughts back to hoping he’d stay safe too, and to wishing the government had some vague idea what it was doing.
Lord God, you always know what you’re doing.
You’ve given us your perfect laws in the Bible to help us, not to make life difficult.
You’ve given us your perfect son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our mistakes and show us the way.
And you’ve given us your Holy Spirit to live in us and guide us day by day.
We thank you God.


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