Wednesday, December 21, 2005

All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law (Luke 2:21-52)

I'm a bit bummed because I started this post yesterday to get a head start, but my computer crashed, and I lost it. I always hate writing things twice; I don't even like making drafts and revisions. No matter...

So, after Mary's time of purification has passed--and yes, even in giving birth to the Son of God, she has to go through this as a law-abiding Jew--the family heads out to Jerusalem to present the boy at the Temple and have him dedicated. Luckily, Jerusalem is very close to Bethlehem. Now despite the claim in the SAB that "Males are holy to God, not females" I think there is a misunderstanding of this passage. It's a reference to Exodus 13, of course, and while I see that yes, it's a males-only thing, I don't think that means that females are not of use to God. Call it sexist if you will, but generally, the husband is the head of the household, and the firstborn son will be the chief heir. I don't believe that this means that all the females and other males are of no import, but rather in sanctifying the firstborn son, the parents are in a sense saying that they dedicate their whole family to God. It also has a lot to do with the last of the plagues of Egypt as one can see from reading the Exodus passage, but that's another issue I'll hopefully get to in a few weeks.

Note in verse 24 that Jesus' parents bring two birds as the offering of purification at the Temple. A small detail that tells us something when we look to the passage linked to in yesterday's post: Mary and Joseph were not wealthy.

At the Temple, they meet two interesting people. The first is Simeon, some sort of aged prophet, apparently. The SAB finds oddity in two points mentioned about this man. One, that he was "just", since the Bible says in Ecclesiastes that there is no "just" man. While this was discussed before back when I covered Genesis 6 and 9 in regards to the specific case of Noah, I'll restate it here so that extensive re-reading isn't necessary. There are some characteristics of individuals in the Bible that the Bible explains in ways that seem contradictory, but are summed up by Jesus' statement, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." No man is "just" or "righteous" by his own doing, but can be made so by the will of God.

Which leads to oddity number two: that "the Holy Ghost was upon" Simeon. If you ask me, the SAB page that notes the oddities of the appearance of the Holy Ghost is missing out on one of the more interesting happenings of this sort, namely 1Samuel 10:10, in which the Holy Ghost comes upon King Saul shortly after he is anointed King of Israel. Actually, this isn't even the first time, as this happens a few times in the book of Judges, to Moses and the elders of Israel and even to Balaam in the book of Numbers. Pharaoh also claims that the Spirit is upon Joseph, but this may not necessarily mean anything of the same sort. Of course, the Spirit of God goes all the way back to the very beginning of the Bible, but the operative question here is what does it mean for the Spirit of God/Holy Ghost to be "given to"/"upon"/"filling" a person. Admittedly, this is not 100% clearly explained in the Bible. However, it is something that is fairly well understood within basic Christian theology. While the Spirit did indeed come before Jesus' resurrection at certain times unto certain people, the idea here of the Spirit being "given" to Jesus' followers is that there will not be an occasional moment of the Spirit coming upon them and causing them to momentarily become more spiritual, but that the Spirit will "dwell in you [which are in Christ Jesus]." Once the Holy Ghost was "given" to the church, all believers supposedly have this Spirit living within them on a constant basis. That's the difference.

The other interesting character that they meet at the Temple is Anna, an aged prophetess. (See? Even women can be prophets. God does have use for women as well.) Anna is rather interesting as she is the only other woman besides Sarah whose age is mentioned. Both Simeon and Anna recognize the child Jesus as being the Messiah, and give praise to God for the chance to see Him.

And now we come to verse 39, a verse I didn't get to yesterday when I was writing my last post. Foolish, I should always remember context is important! Still, I don't think a revision is needed of yesterday's comments, only further commentary. The question is, what's the sequence of events and locations in the lives of Mary and Joseph shortly after Jesus' birth? Did they stay in Bethlehem for a while? Did they spend some time in Egypt, and when? Did they go right back to Nazareth as soon as possible? Were they actually in Nazareth before Jesus was born? There are actually numerous possible ways to answer these that fit in fine with the stories here and in Matthew. First, let me answer in a way that fits with my statements of my last post for continuity's sake. I claimed yesterday that this young couple remained in Bethlehem for a couple years, settling down in a house and living a normal life until the Magi came and God told them to flee to Egypt. The only reason that would contradict verse 39 is if you assume two things that are not explicitly stated there. One, that "all things according to the law of the Lord" refers only to the purification and Temple visit, and therefore represents a small number of actions that last a little over a month. Two, that the sentence overall implies an immediacy of action. On the first matter it may be pointed out that in Matthew's story he indicates several Old Testament passages that are taken to be prophetic of Jesus' childhood. That being the case, "all things according to the law of the Lord" may also refer to the brief sojourn on Egypt, both because it was supposedly prophesied and because it was directly commanded by God in a dream to Joseph. (Interesting parallels here to another Joseph who took his family into Egypt based on God's leading in dreams. That Joseph's family was brought back into the land of Canaan by a certain man named Joshua, who in Greek would be called "Jesus".) On the second matter, it's simply not there. Even if the first part is true and this verse is referring only to Mary's purification, two years later they still "had performed" those things. Luke has left out part of the story, but he's not outright contradicting Matthew. Another possibility that exists if you do make those two assumptions is that the Magi actually came to Nazareth! While one can and should assume that the Magi went to Bethlehem to find Jesus, if He wasn't there when they came, they surely wouldn't have quit after what was probably quite a long journey; they would ask where Jesus could be found, and perhaps someone could direct them to the Galilee region. That's iffy though, and I like my personal explanation better. Other possibilities probably exist.

The chapter ends with a story of Jesus at age 12. Being just short of coming of age, (at his 13th birthday according to Jewish tradition) He and His family are in Jerusalem for Passover. When the family leaves, they don't notice immediately that Jesus is not with them. They find Him at the Temple, talking with a number of scholars about the law. His parents scold Him for getting lost, but He replies "How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" At coming of age, many Jewish boys at the time apparently go into the family business. While Jesus' earthly father was a "carpenter", He of course was interested in being about the business of his Heavenly Father.

The final verse is indeed an odd one, as is noted in the SAB. "How could an omniscient being 'increase in wisdom?' And how could God increase 'in favour with God?' " Good questions! There are a couple aspects to this. On one hand, theologians are not in 100% agreement on whether Jesus was omniscient. There were apparently at least a few things that He didn't know, so it seems that He was not. How much did He know? Did He actually have things to learn? Maybe. The other aspect of this though is that while Jesus was supposedly born perfect, there was also a matter of Him continuing in His perfection throughout his life. One would assume that he had the ability to sin and do wrong, or else why would Satan have bothered to tempt Him? Even if Jesus is omniscient in knowing all facts, He may have had things to learn through personal experience, and He may have simply increased the wisdom of those he came in contact with, thus vicariously increasing in "wisdom and stature" through others. And thus, He would serve to please God the Father by His actions in addition to the internal goodness that was intrinsic to Him.

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