The Gospel of the Day – 2017.01.01
The Three Shepherds
The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.
When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception
There is a lot packed into this short passage.
Before we begin to explicate its meaning we must understand that, Luke the Apostle, he never met Jesus. Luke was not one of the disciples. Luke was a protégé of Paul, and Paul had never met Jesus either.
Luke and Paul, travelled broadly and met many of those that had followed Jesus during his life. Paul met with James, who was Jesus’ brother, but they never met Jesus, and everything they knew about Jesus was heresay.
It is also important to note, that while the Gospel of Luke bears Luke’s name, it was not written by Luke. None of the Gospels were written by individuals, that were exercises in collective development, and the writing of them took place over generations, as the communities who authored them did their best to narrate their understanding of the life and mission of Jesus in terms their audience would understand.
The Gospel of Luke says that Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus were visited by three shepherds. This is presented in distinction to Matthews Gospel which says that they holy family was visited by three Magi, who were “wise men” and Kings.
The Gospel of John, the earliest Gospel, and that of Mark, they do not treat the subject at all.
Matthew’s community, and Luke’s community, they were writing to very different audiences. As such, they tailored the narrative of the birth of Jesus to their audience. They each in their way created a fiction that was pleasing to the people to whom they were preaching.
This is propaganda.
To understand the Gospels, this must be understood first of all. The Gospels contain some legitimate historical data, but the facts are difficult to sift out. They are the product of artifice, they are fictions. The Gospels speak to some truths that are universal, and relate some true events, but cannot be relied on as a true account.
They are propaganda, and that is not to say that they are bad, but it is to say that they must be seen for what they are. Because the gospels are propaganda, they are less reliable as a tool to teach us about Jesus and more appropriately used to teach us about the diverse Near Eastern and Mediterranean communities that formed the early church.
2nd Sunday of Christmas (The Solemnity of Mary)