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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pondering


“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. (Luke 2:8 NRSV)


There is a lot to think about in the Biblical Christmas story of the shepherds’ encounter with the divine; this event described in such brief but dramatic form in Luke 2:8-20. Whenever I read this, it always gives me pause. To begin with, the text says the shepherds were “living in the fields.” Older versions of scripture use the term “abiding” instead of living. It means the same thing, but somehow “living in the fields” seems more compelling. It definitely catches my attention.

I ask myself, what does it mean to be living in the fields? What is the life of these shepherds like? Are these wandering herdsmen, roaming the hills with their sheep, always looking for good pasture land and water? Do they have backpacks or pack animals to carry their supplies? What predators must they guard against; lions? Robbers? Do they look for a cave to get in out of the weather or do they sleep in a bedroll out under the stars? Do they have tents? Do they take turns sleeping, some in the daytime, some at night?

Are all the shepherds men or are there women shepherds out there too? If they are all men, do they have women at home somewhere? Children? Do they even have a home? What do they eat? Who prepares their food? Do they cook over an open fire? Do they live in the fields all the time or only during certain seasons of the year? Do they ever get time off? How do they bathe or wash their clothes? How often?

None of the answers to these questions are included in Luke’s description. Why is that? Is it because this is a short, summary version (12 verses) of this important event and there is no room for such details? Perhaps it is because such contextual questions were not the point of the story. Or maybe it is because the readers to whom the text was originally written would have known the answers so well the questions did not even arise. Whatever the reason, the daily life experience of the shepherds is not told to us, and we are left to ponder.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary page 683 contains the following statement about the Shepherds. “...in accord with Luke’s theme of poverty, the shepherds are the lowly. “Mangy, stinking, bathless shepherds are in their ritual uncleanness an encouragement for all who lack religious status” (Danker, Jesus and the New Age 27).” Oh my!

To me, the life of the people in the story matters as I try to understand. Who are these people and what is their life like? To Luke, however, such details are apparently all inconsequential. Luke’s story is that the shepherds are out in the fields, doing their work, living their lives, and in the midst of all that, God breaks in on them. To Luke, it doesn’t matter what their life is like; they are people and they matter to God! Oh...well then... maybe Luke has a point there. And maybe that is the point.

The second last verse of this story says, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” I totally understand that; there is a lot to ponder here.

Carman

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