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Did you ever stop to think: why were shepherds the first to get revelation of Jesus’ birth and the first, according to Luke, to visit his family in the manger? I learned recently that at the time, shepherds were considered low life outcasts. And yet they received an exclusive invitation to the birth of the King. I overlooked this curious fact through many a Christmas, but I think it has some interesting implications:

“One story goes as follows. Luke, it is claimed, is the Evangelist who makes the ‘option for the poor’ his central theme. Hitherto excluded people are now to be honoured, and outsiders to be brought into the community, such as tax collectors, women, and the poor — the first of whom, then, would be the shepherds. For, according to some Jewish writings, herdsmen were on the list of those ineligible to be witnesses in legal cases since they grazed their flocks on other people’s lands and were thus (like tax collectors) archetypal sinners.

No great leap of imagination is required to conclude that, for Luke, shepherds were the most appropriate class of people to visit the child first — the child descended from David, who inherited the throne of David, the shepherd king, and who would, in due time, identify himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10)… ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’.” (excerpt from torch.op.org)

Just like in Mary’s song, the theme of turning things upside down with the lowly brought high, echoes again where privilege is given to humble shepherds. This is all part of the pattern I had never noticed in the Bible before. More for next time…

-M

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