|Our scripture passage from the Gospel of Luke 2:16-21 is a continuation of the infancy narrative we heard last week. |
This section of the infancy narrative goes on to relate how the shepherds received the good news of Jesus’ birth and of their response to that news. We are specifically told that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us” (Lk 2:15). Later we are told that the shepherds returned glorifying God for all they had heard and seen (Lk 2:20). Both of these actions are important and offer guidance for us as to how we should respond to messages of faith in our lives. First, it is significant that the shepherds were not content to only hear about Jesus, but they were motivated to go and meet the Lord for themselves. This is an important dynamic that should be taking place in our lives as disciples as well. Every revelation of God, every truth of our faith, is meant to draw us to the divine encounter, and if we settle with mere knowledge, we have not fulfilled the intended purpose of the good news we receive by faith. The difference between learning about God and actually encountering God has been likened to the difference between reading a recipe and actually tasting the meal. Jesus wants to draw us to Himself, and anything we learn about the Lord is meant to motivate and facilitate such an encounter. The shepherds were told where to find Jesus, what He looked like, and who He was. With that knowledge they then put forth the effort to go and meet the Lord for themselves. Luke wants all of us as disciples to be motivated in the same way.
Second, it is important to note what the shepherds did after they met the Lord; they praised God and returned to their flocks. The image of the shepherds is an interesting one and can function on various levels. Some Scripture scholars see the shepherds as symbols of the poor and outcasts who become the first to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth. Other Scripture scholars think the shepherds more aptly represent the leaders of the Christian Church who care for the flock. This second interpretation would most certainly be in line with other New Testament writings that relate the ministry of Jesus, the apostles, and their successors to that of shepherding (1 Pt 5:2–4, Jn 21:15–17, Mk 6:34, Mt 9:36, Jn 10:11–18). This response of the shepherds should inspire us to act in the same way. They took the message of their encounter with Jesus back to their flocks. In a real sense, they had nothing to give their flocks until they themselves had experienced the Lord! It is because of their personal encounter with Jesus that they can now lead their flocks to the Lord as well. When we encounter the Lord, it is never meant to be an experience that we keep to ourselves. Rather, we are to praise God for that grace and share it with those entrusted to our care so that they too can experience the Lord and be transformed by God’s love.
For what experience of God in your life do you offer greatest praise and thanksgiving?
How can you lead others to that experience in their lives?
Why are people all too often content to just learn about God but not motivated to encounter God for themselves?
Why do you think Luke put such emphasis on the importance of personal encounter with Jesus for disciples?
Finally, in Luke 2:19 we are told that Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. The image of Mary is important because she embodies what it means to be a disciple. She was the first one to hear the Word of God and to do it (Lk 1:38 and Lk 11:28). In this moment, then, Mary is teaching us the importance of reflecting on the experience of God lest we fail to grasp the significance and meaning of the Lord’s action in our lives. It is only when we take time to prayerfully reflect on the events of our lives that we can come to understand those things from God’s perspective and see the presence of God with us. Such reflection requires periods of sacred silence in a person’s life. Silence is the door through which God enters our heart and soul. Without silence, we can’t have any meaningful awareness of God or bring into coherent meaningful focus the realities of our lives. That is why the English scholar, T.S. Eliot, claimed that a tragedy occurs when we have the experience but miss the meaning. The philosopher, Socrates, is credited with articulating the importance of such reflective contemplation when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.” Mary reminds all disciples of the importance of faith-filled reflection on the events of God in our lives. Indeed, through the door of silence God can enter our hearts, minds, and souls and help us to understand deeply the meaning of the Lord’s action in our world.
How do you incorporate silence into your life of faith?
What are the challenges you face in fostering periods of reflective silence each day?
What spiritual insights have you gained through reflective contemplation?
Edith Stein, “Le Mystère de Noël (Ger: Das Weihnachtsgeheimnis
)” in La Crèche et la Croix,
Paris: Ad Solem Editions S.A., 2007, p. 23.
T. S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages” in Four Quartets,
Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1943, p. 35.
D. Leibowitz, The Ironic Defense of Socrates: Plato’s Apology,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 38a, p. 161.
Regina Angelorum. William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Oil on canvas, 1900. Petit Palais Collection, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Paris.
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.
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