Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Ninth Day of Christmas---The Poor Family from Nazareth

One of the primary concerns of the Gospel of Luke is the poor. I've long recognized the places where this emphasis is readily seen. Luke has Jesus preach "blessed are the poor," in contrast to Matthew's "blessed are the poor in spirit." Mary's song, which we know from the Latin translation as the Magnificat, is full of revolutionary language, speaking of God's favor for the poor while the rich are sent away empty. Things like that. This "preferential option for the poor" can be seen throughout scripture, but Luke really hammers it home.

I was looking in my Harper's Bible Commentary to see what ideas I could find for this unexpected series on the 12 Days of Christmas. (I've mentioned that this wasn't exactly planned, yes?) The commentator is remarking on how many ways Luke tried to make sure we understood that Mary and Joseph were good Jews, following the Law of Moses closely in the days following Jesus' birth (circumcision on the 8th day, purification of the mother), but what the commentator didn't note was a piece of information that points to the poverty of the Holy Family.

In Luke 2: 24, we find, " . . . and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’"

The commentator notes that this is to fulfill a command found in Leviticus 12:6-8: "6 When the days of her purification are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt-offering, and a pigeon or a turtle-dove for a sin-offering. 7He shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement on her behalf; then she shall be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, male or female. 8If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtle-doves or two pigeons, one for a burnt-offering and the other for a sin-offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean"

It sticks out to my eye that they did not offer a lamb, but the offering to be made "if she cannot afford a sheep."

Our American culture worships wealth. We wish to be the rich and famous people on the cover of magazine covers and we often support politicians' moves to favor the wealthy over the poor. Clearly, not everyone, but in general, we like our nice things and disposable income and if we don't have that, we generally want very badly to have it. There are preachers (strangely, very rich preachers with TV shows) who like to tell us that Jesus was rich, or if Jesus wasn't rich, he definitely wants us to be rich.

This is very difficult to support from scripture.

And if nothing else, I'm struck once again how this wealthy nation, which many want to claim as a "Christian nation," misses that our Lord and Savior is nothing like the rich people we admire or want to be.

Jesus was born a peasant and he died a peasant. His is not a rags to riches story, but a story of the Reign of God and how much we don't want it, how we are not satisfied with the abundance the Reign of God brings.

Mary made the poor woman's offering. We need to remember this.

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