Sunday

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’” (vv. 1-2)

Psalm: Psalm 100


Background

This passage brings together two kinds of narrative. There isthe political narrative that locates the story in the historicalworld of kings and emperors, and chronological time (from the Greekword, kronos); then there is the kind of narrative that concernsthe fulfilment of prophecy (Micah5:2) that in God's good time (from the Greek concept of kairos)a true shepherd would be born to govern God's people, to whom thenations would come bringing gifts of gold and frankincense (Isaiah60:6).

The interweaving of the two kinds of narrative is theologicallyimportant, demonstrating the Christian belief that God's purposesare fulfilled in human history and not on some esoteric spiritualplane.

The Herod in question in this passage is Herod the Great who isnow right at the end of his reign, dying in 4 BC. (Ironically thisputs Christ's birth 4 years BC!) He took the throne by force andruled with Roman support. Using slave labour he created aprestigious port at Caesarea Maritima and the extravagantlyflamboyant palace near Bethlehem called the Herodian. His reignseems to have ended in terror including the 'slaughter of theinnocents' (Matthew 2:16) designed to get rid of any infantrivals.

In bringing together the narrative of Herod the Great and theprophecies of Micah and Isaiah in this passage, Matthew's Gospelputs side by side the hope of a true shepherd who would gather thesheep, feed and protect them and bring light to the nations,compared with the kind of shepherd Herod had been, who, in thewords of the prophet Ezekiel had scattered the sheep, made themvulnerable to others and eaten at their expense, leaving themamongst clouds of thick darkness (Ezekiel 34:12).

It is not surprising therefore that Herod saw the birth of this'king of the Jews' as a threat - whilst Jesus was not an earthlyking (as he was to make clear before Pilate at his trial (John18:36)), Jesus' reign certainly challenges all those who ruleto do so with justice and equity.


To Ponder

  • In what ways do you think that Jesus the Good Shepherdchallenges those who hold positions of leadership and authority inthe world today?
  • The fulfilment of prophecy is a strong theme in this story. Whywas it important to early Christians to demonstrate that Christ'sbirth had been foretold?
  • The fulfilment of prophecy is a strong belief amongst manyreligious people in the world, including some Christians and someMuslims. How do you relate to the idea that sacred texts foretellfuture events?
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