From the evidence of the gospel stories alone, one might question the efficacy of divine communication. At least, in terms of the people on the receiving end, the Jews, the divine message of the birth of Jesus seems profoundly insulting. The entire story is a glittering array of irony, of every grade. The miraculous, the unexpected, the improprietous, the suspicious, are all woven into an intense braid of agony. The intellect is surmounted. The emotions are depleted in awe.
Just consider two basic elements immediately pertinent to the actual birth itself. Other than Mary herself, no human being really knew for a fact that the child was not of this world. What Joseph knew was essentially hearsay. Angelic, but, still, the word of someone else.
So, who knew anything about this birth? Who witnessed it? Who noted it? To whom was the glory of the Lord revealed?
Shepherds (Luke 2:8). Shepherds bore the witness–of a miraculous announcement from Heaven, and of the newborn child. It appears was a terrible move, if respectable citizens of the territory were expected to believe the report. Joachim Jeremias reminds us that shepherds (herdsmen) were listed among the despised professions of the time, basically because they were associated with livestock fraud, dishonesty, and land abuse. Perhaps this was an inevitable social circumstance of the times, but, their reputation is noted on two of four lists in the Mishnah. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, (1962; rpt. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), pp.303-305, f. In other rabbinical writings, it was forbidden to even buy wool, milk, or kids from them, directly, anyway. And to think, the sacrificial lamb was the very center of Jewish identity. That the herdsmen were regarded as immoral is a piquant tragedy.
The most low-down, thieving crooks of Jewish society, entrusted with the news of the spiritual heartland of the nation.
In other words, who would consider any hysterical report coming from a completely mistrusted sector of society? Why put the pristine message of the birth of the Savior in the mouths of liars? What kind of PR move was this? Wasn’t it directly counterproductive?
But that wasn’t all, in the way of despicable messengers.
A caravan of Magi came some 1,450 miles from the East (Persia) to appear in the capital of Jerusalem, and to ask for the exact place of the newborn King of the Jews. This was not only outrageous, but perhaps a little stupid–on their part. But, they had been led by stars and dreams, according to the story, and they actually brought riches to offer the new royalty.
As a delegation of foreigners, you don’t barge into a Roman occupied province tortured with lethally competing political intensity, and announced to everyone you’ve come to worship the new King of the Jews!
Perhaps the front end, or the middle, of a huge caravan. You don’t travel 1,450 miles with that much loot, without plenty of protection. Imagine them parading into Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the new King of the Jews?”
This surely turned everyone off even more than the shepherd story (–which probably never made it to main street Jerusalem anyway).
The Magi were one of the half dozen tribes of the Medes, all of whom Persia had conquered in the early 6th century. Persians were not into destroying people, but managing them for some imperial purpose, so they let the Magi tribe stay in power, and hold their naturally respected influence.
What was that influence? The Magi were international spookists. They made their life work to accumulated all the knowledge of the supernatural and the divine known all over the world, and to codify it, to practice it, etc. (Their attire was that on which Walt Disney’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” cartoon movie was based, the coned hat, the wand, the long robe, etc. The word “magic” is derived from this ancient Median tribe, the “Magi.”)
This crew? These characters? This caravan, from a world away, would be the first to announce the birth of the new King of the Jews–in Jerusalem, at the capital, to the authorities, Roman and Jewish?
This is incredible. This is impossible.
It is as if Providence designed to rebuke or mock the Jewish culture of the day by entrusting such a precious hope in the mouths of liars and foreign spookists from afar. Didn’t Heaven want anyone in Israel to believe the story? Then why manage the PR in such an profoundly offensive way?
No circumstances could have been more insulting to national leadership and to the religious culture. No “messengers” could have functioned more offensively.
The Christ child was “for all people.” So we have the lowest among the Jews, the shepherds, and the highest among the heathen, the Magi. Jewish liars and Gentile spookists. What a scene!
And no one seemed to know exactly what Mary knew, anyway. (That little secret was probably the best kept secret in the history of the world.)
So, the first Advent of Christ was beset with utter incongruity. The birth was a maddening event. It was clearly outside the normal, outside this world, and was marked by aversion from the moment of its announcement.
Mickey Mouse, dressed in the Magi’s style. He was the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in the film, Fantasia.
It just seems that better PR might have alleviated some of this. Of course, that is worldly thinking; that is reason according to publicity as we know it today–as as they knew it then.
It is an agony to say, but, it is as if God rebuffed the Jewish people from the beginning. The story was a slap in the face.
I would not expect to hear one explanation that was not fraught with the most gloating anti-Semitism, so, I ask not why the story happened as it did. I simply observe the abject irony. We all can and should observe at least that much.
The identity of Jesus seemed intentionally hidden from the Jews. That is the way it comes off in the gospel stories.
And, no one else need dare think that he would have seen anything more, were he in town at the time–unless he were a sincere Jewish liar, or an earnest Gentile soothsayer. Cielo mi guardi!