Can St. Joseph resurrect home sales?
St. Mary’s husband, Joseph, attracts heaps of attention from anxious home sellers squeezed in a market that has gone bust. Desperate sellers caught in a mortgage meltdown are leaning on Joseph when nothing else works. They want a lucky Christmas present: a done deal on their house for sale.According to The Wall Street Journal, those begging for a quick sale of their house are using Joseph as a talisman, a superstitious genie to make them lucky. In an article titled “When It Takes a Miracle to Sell your House,” folklore about Joseph motivates those caught in the real estate collapse. The Internet features a positively heavenly sales technique. A seller buys St. Joseph’s statue, buries it near a for-sale sign and waits for pennies from heaven in the form of arriving bids. Vendors of St. Joseph statues can’t keep them in stock. Jittery buyers rush into Roman Catholic supply firms. They engage in panicky buying sprees.”Some vendors of religious supplies,” the Wall Street Journal reported, “say St. Joseph statues are flying off the shelves as an increasing number of skeptics and non-Catholics look for some saintly intervention to help them sell their houses.”The housing market, once sprinting toward terrifically inflated prices, has drastically slowed down. Real estate in many areas of the country acts as if smitten with buyer constipation. Nothing moves in the miserable market. Sellers are doubled over with debt.With the housing market in a free fall, builders are desperate to unload their inventories. Recently, I saw a fellow with a signboard draped over his shoulders. At an intersection where he stands, drivers read how a builder throws in a finished basement in the purchase price of a home. The sign carrier reminded me of the Great Depression when down-on-their-luck fellows sold apples. Sellers grimace at grim statistics. Wall Street wipes billions of bad home loans off its books. Builders are caught with rising inventories. Home prices nose dive as owners with nonconventional mortgages are walking away from their debts. Compounding a builder’s problems, he or she is saddled with plummeting land prices. Builders lack cash because they paid more for some parcels than they are now worth. Debt expands as builders pile on giveaways ranging from automatic sprinkler systems to upgrades on kitchen cabinets. Banks are strangling financial deals, once signed with no money down. Now tighter standards regulate credit. It’s tough to sell. It’s tough to buy because mortgages have dried up. And it’s tough for builders to float loans to expand their operations.When tough times hit, people yearn to get lucky. They search for easy ways to clinch sales. They wish to find a magic genie who uncorks a bottle bringing them good times again. What better person to turn to than St. Joseph? Biblical tradition describes the surrogate father of Jesus as a carpenter. He built houses for a living. Lean on him, and the Lord will provide.For about $5, sellers squeezed by no prospective customers buy a St. Joseph statue made in China. It includes burial instructions and a fitting prayer that twists God’s arm to send buyers with cash upfront. A customer-friendly firm throws in with the St. Joseph statue a figurine of St. Jude – known as the patron St. of hopeless causes – “to help those with difficult property to sell,” the firm’s Web site promises.How about this crazy scenario? St. Joseph is interred but, before the ground settles over him, a buyer pops up with cash on the barrel for a house. Moving quickly, a seller forgets to dig up Joseph. Ground heaves. Joseph begins to rise. The new buyer runs his lawn mower for the first time, and the blade hits Joseph. Both the mower’s blade and St. Joseph get sawed off. The buyer fumes and cancels his contract. A mutilated Joseph isn’t a St. a devotee can depend on for favors.St. Joseph commands more attention today than he did when Jesus was born. Honest preachers admit that they make up lots of “facts” about Christmas characters because the biblical evidence is thin regarding them. Joseph appears briefly in the Gospel of Matthew’s nativity story. He gets less press from Luke. Here’s the little we know for sure about him gleaned from biblical evidence. He is surprised at Mary’s miraculous pregnancy. Upset, Joseph in a dream receives one of four biblical annunciations about Jesus’ birth. He sticks by Mary and then weds her. After Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Joseph and family flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s genocide of male Jewish newborns. Residing in Nazareth upon returning, Joseph gets a fleeting reference when 12-year-old Jesus stuns Jewish rabbis with his erudition. Christ testily tells his folks that his real family consists of believers in him who do the will of his heavenly Father. Is this a slap in Joseph’s face? The Bible doesn’t mention his death.Christmas pageants show the Holy Family around a manger. Preachers embellish. They surmise. The truth is, the Bible doesn’t report Joseph being present at Jesus’ birth. Joseph seems like one of our shy classmates. Years later, paging through our school memoir, we stumble on a fellow who was invisible to us. Joseph is spoken to and spoken about. But scripture portrays him as mum. Now home sellers take words out of his mouth, hoping this carpenter will build them a deal to unload their real estate. They bury his figurine, hoping for saintly luck in a weak real estate market. Desperation wed to faith in relics makes for superstition that sells. The Rev. Jack Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries, which enhances Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.
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