Alright, children, gather 'round, gather 'round, it's time for a story. Now, this is a true story, so I want you to pay attention, alright? It happened about sixty years ago.
There was once a young man named Josiah, son of Akim, son of Jesse. He was a Levite, and the youngest out of five boys. Josiah's father, Akim, was a scribe in the temple, and to the public eye, he was a good and pious man. At home, however, he was cruel and unfair. Josiah left home when he was only fourteen, and travelled to Bethlehem. Akim never searched for him.
Josiah became a shepherd, and for many years he tended other people's flocks for a few copper coins a day. Like most shepherds, Josiah cared little for the things of God. He neither tithed nor gave alms, and spent most of his money on the pleasures of the flesh.
Well, when Josiah was twenty years old, on a cool autumn night, he was just settling down for a nap, when all of a sudden, an angel -- yes, you know this part of the story -- an angel appeared, and told all the shepherds about the birth of Messiah in the town of Bethlehem. Once that vital information was given, an entire heavenly chorus appeared and gave glory to God. They filled their sky with light and music, and all the shepherds were astounded. Once the music had ended, the shepherds all ran down to the village to try to find the newborn king.
Soon, that group of dirty, tired shepherds was sitting around on a barn floor in awe, gazing at the infant who would one day save mankind. Josiah sat near the back, unnoticed, and thought about what he was seeing.
Now, when you see a chorus of angels, for most people, that puts them in a mood to receive the things of God for at least a few weeks or so. The only thing Josiah could think about, though, was how young this Messiah was. He didn't know whether this baby would save his people from sin, or from the Romans, or from something else... but he did know that the baby was very young. It would be a long time before he did anything important.
For Josiah, this was a guarantee that no matter what happened, the Jews would suffer under Rome for at least another thirty years. As he watched the other shepherds worship and praise the infant ruler, he felt more abandoned by God than ever. Josiah believed that God's purposes were so large, so far above his own, that God could never see him on a personal level.
Of course, as our Master said, God sees every.... what? That's right, Simon, every sparrow that falls. And he counts every hair on our heads, too. That's right.
Anyway, Josiah was feeling very sad and alone in the middle of all those happy people, and he sat down in a corner, and he just so happened to put his hand right in the afterbirth.
What's an afterbirth?
Well, when a woman gives birth to a child, the child has a cord coming from his belly, and you have to cut that off, and that's where the belly button comes from. The other end of that cord attaches to a big floppy red thing called the placenta, and that comes out after the baby, that's why they call it the afterbirth. It's sort of like a fresh calf's liver with a piece of hose attached to it. Once the baby is born, the afterbirth is usually just thrown away.
The Greeks like to argue about whether it's a part of the mother or a part of the child. It's not really what you'd call human flesh, but it is flesh that comes from a human.
Josiah was disgusted, and jerked his hand away... not because he was concerned about becoming unclean, but just because the placenta was still wet. And that would have been the end of it, had it not been for his thumb. For you see, Josiah had lost his left thumbnail a few years ago when a pack of wolves attacked his flock, and it had never grown back. But, as he looked at it now, he could see that it was completely healed.
That placenta, fresh from Mary's womb, was somehow imbued with the powers of God, and had the capability to bless and heal whatever it touched. Quickly and quietly, Josiah scooped the damp lump of flesh into his sleeve.
Much later, after the shepherds all left, singing and praising God, Josiah thought about how he could use this placenta for personal gain. He knew better than to simply expose it to everyone, since it would be too easy for anyone to steal it from him and take the power for themselves. He tried healing a few pimples and rashes on his body before attempting his trickery.
It was the next night, and the shepherds were still excited about the new baby, still visiting with the Holy Family and spreading the good news. Josiah and an older shepherd named Matthias were left behind to mind the flocks. Matthias was much like Josiah -- grumpy and grumbling, uninterested in the things of God. As was his custom, Matthias started complaining at about midnight of pains in his feet and hands, as well as his aching back, and sore eyes. This night, Josiah was prepared.
He told Matthias about an old family remedy that could help restore aging limbs. Matthias, eager for any kind of relief, readily accepted Josiah's offers of treatment. Josiah wandered around the hillside, plucking weeds and herbs, and he made the older shepherd lie down and place these herbs over his eyes. As soon as he was sure Matthias could not see, Josiah took out the placenta (which by now was starting to rot, ever so slightly) and rubbed it on the old man's hands and feet.
Josiah did a few other things with the various plants he had gathered, spoke a few magic words, and concluded the session. Matthias, of course, found that his hands and feet no longer ailed him, and he thanked Josiah profusely. Soon, Josiah was tending to the needs of all the other shepherds, asking only a few coins for each treatment. After a few weeks, he built up a reputation, and many people from all over the village came to be healed.
Within a few months, Josiah had made enough money to quit work as a shepherd, and buy a house in town. The placenta was rotting and turning green, but it still possessed great power, and people usually expect medicine to smell bad, so that was alright. As word spread of Josiah's abilities, many people came to see him. The placenta cured leprosy, blindness, deafness, madness, infertility, and broken limbs. Great rulers from far away asked him for potions and salves, and he usually just cut off a ring of umbilical cord and mashed it up with some dates.
Josiah soon became quite wealthy, especially when you consider that he did not tithe, and did not keep the Sabbath. Now that he was becoming rich and famous, Josiah acted shrewdly. He saved and invested his money, and made friends with other rich people. He married a woman named Sarah, whose father was very wealthy.
He did all these things to secure his fortune for the years to come, for he knew that the power of the placenta would not last. As the months passed, the power of the afterbirth waned. Healings that once required only the briefest touch now required prolonged rubbing. Skin diseases could no longer be healed at all. The placenta had become flat, dry, and brown. It crumbled at the edges, and had to be held carefully.
On the night that Sarah gave birth to a son, the Lord's surrogate father came in, asking for the corns on his feet to be healed. Joseph did not recognize Josiah, so Josiah charged him extra. Joseph paid in gold, and left Bethlehem.
Josiah was very proud of his eldest son, and called him Josiah, after himself. He finally had an heir, something he had never thought would happen, and he swore not to treat his child as he had been treated by his father Akim.
On the night that Herod gave his most infamous command, Josiah was out visiting another family, to whom he had given a great loan. When he heard the soldiers running by in the street, he assumed it was some sort of civil unrest, and simply tried to ignore the noise. When he heard the wailing, though, and news reached his ears of what was being done, he raced home through the crowds, not having even stopped to put on his sandals.
He arrived at his home too late. The door was broken open, and Sarah sat there, hysterically weeping, clutching at her son, who had been run through on the point of a spear.
Without a word, Josiah snatched the child from her arms, and laid him on the table. In desperation, he brought out the withered placenta, which by now was little more than a scrap of leather. He wrapped the tiny corpse in it, and laid his hands on the punctured chest. He began to weep tears of pure emotion, and, for the first time in his life, Josiah prayed.
Josiah lamented, and his voice was added to the throngs outside. He pleaded and bargained with God, trying everything he could to restore life to his boy. He promised to tithe retroactively. He promised to keep the Sabbath and all the festivals. He promised to dedicate his child to the service of God.
As he said these last words, the placenta put out its final dose of holy power, and the child begain to cry. Josiah clutched the boy to his chest and laughed and cried and praised God with all his heart. And as you can see..... right here.... the afterbirth left a scar on my chest, and one on my back. That's where the spear went right through me, although the mark has grown longer with age.
Josiah named me "Raphael", which means "God Heals", and had me circumcized on the eighth day. He kept his word, and gave me over to the service of the Lord in his temple. I became a scribe like my grandfather, though I never met the man. My father went on to have many other children, and he raised them in a good and godly household, telling them the story of the placenta at every opportunity, so that they would not forget, and forsake the ways of God.
Now, unfortunately, my father did not live long enough to become a disciple of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, but I like to think that that placenta.... I like to think it saved us both.