Category Archives: Bible

The Christmas Interviews: The Guide

The Guide

The 2nd dream, Daniele Crespi, 1620-1630

Reporter: Lastly I  found  the guide Esme suggested I might talk with.

Welcome Shimon. You are a travel guide available for hire, and you have been taken on to lead the astrologer’s caravan?

Shimon: I take work where I can get it. I travel a lot so acting as a guide is one of my lines of work.

Reporter: But I understand you were taken on locally, you have not travelled with them before.

Shimon: Yes that’s right.

Reporter: Do you know why the astrologers hired a guide after arriving at their destination? It’s more usual to have a guide to get to a place.

Shimon: I can’t be sure why but they want a different route out of Israel to the way they came. They have specifically said that they want to avoid Herod’s palace. I was told they stopped there on the way to Bethlehem.

Reporter: And you’ve no idea why they wish to find a different way to return to their home?

Shimon: You must have heard the rumours around here, that Herod is looking for a child. Word has it that the child could take Herod’s throne when he grows. So I’m guessing that the astrologers know something of the child that they don’t want to tell Herod.

Reporter:  Thank you for your time, Shimon.

I wasn’t able to track down the couple with their child, Jesus. The last snippet of information I was able to pick up is that the parents may have taken him out of Israel, possibly making their way to Egypt, lending credence to the story Herod my be searching for them.

If anything new comes to light, we’ll bring it to you first. For now, goodbye.

The Shepherds
The Innkeeper’s Wife
The Wise Men’s Cook

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The Christmas Interviews: The Wise Men’s Cook

The Wise Men’s Cook

The Magi Journeying by James Tissot c. 1890

Reporter: It took me a few more days to track down the “well dressed visitors”. They were not from the local area and by the time I found them, they had rejoined their caravan at a camp a little way outside Bethlehem. I wasn’t able to speak with the visitors to the baby personally but I with a little persuasion, a couple of members of their retinue agreed to speak with me.

First Esme, the caravan’s cook. Hello Esme. You’ve been with the caravan for the whole journey I understand?

Esme: Yes, all except when they visited a palace, King Herod’s I think, and here in Bethlehem. We had to camp outside while they went in to the palace and town.

Reporter: I understand your masters came from the East, just to see the child. What can you tell me about them and about the child?

Esme: I’ll tell you what little I can. They’re called Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar. Melchior seems to be senior. They study the stars. Astrologers I think they call themselves, or maybe astronomers I’m not sure.

Reporter: And do you know what brought them to Bethlehem, Esme?

Esme: Mostly it’s just gossip and rumour but they apparently saw a conjunction forming in the stars. They’d predicted that the stars would coalesce over this town. They didn’t know the name of it until they got here, they just followed the stars. They thought it was some kind of portent.

Reporter: Do you know what they found when they arrived?

Esme: Again only gossip. They found a child, low born but they say he’s destined to lead the people, maybe even become a king.

One other thing, they hired a new local guide. You could try talking to him.

Reporter: Thank you for talking with me Esme.

The Shepherds
The Innkeeper’s Wife

The Christmas Interviews: The Innkeepers Wife

The Innkeeper’s Wife

Nativity at Night, by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, c. 1490.

Reporter: After the shepherds, I followed the story further by trying to speak with the innkeeper where the couple had asked for a room. He was out buying supplies to re-stock after his census guests had left. I was able to talk to his wife.

Hello Helene, thank you for talking with me. When did you realise something out of the ordinary was going on, and what can you tell us about the young couple that stayed in your stable?

Helene: We guessed something was happening when we saw the lights in the sky outside the town. I suppose everyone had probably seen them. Lots came out to look when they heard people shouting about it.

The couple asked my husband for a room but we were already full, because of the census. I couldn’t see them pushed away, she was so heavily with child. I suggested the stable to my husband, at a reduced rate of course.

Reporter: We heard from a shepherd that the baby was born in your stable, and was named Jesus. Can you tell us his parents’ names?

Helene: They were called Mary and Joseph, from Nazareth I think. I felt sorry for her having travelled so far in her condition. He was a carpenter.

Reporter: Was there anything special or out of the ordinary about them?

Helene: I didn’t see anything at the time. Later after the unexpected visit of the shepherds I began to wonder about them.

I took them some fresh water the next morning. It was just an excuse really; I wanted to see the baby. He’s a lovely little chap. There seemed to be an aura of calm and peace about him.

Reporter: You’ve told us about the shepherds, were there any other visitors?

Helene: Lots of people came asking about the couple and their child. They were coming for days after Mary, Joseph and Jesus had left. It was getting annoying.

Was there anyone you particularly noticed amongst the visitors?

Helene: Most were ordinary folks, like you and me. A few oddballs but there was one small group I particularly remember.

Three foreign gentlemen enquired about the young family. Very well dressed, in expensive clothes. They had camels with them. You don’t often see that in Bethlehem. They just watered their camels and bought a few supplies before leaving. I told them that after the young couple left, they’d rented a house somewhere nearby, but I wasn’t sure where.

Reporter:  Thank you Helene.

 

Previous:  The shepherds.

The Christmas Interviews: The Shepherds

The Shepherds.

Adoration of the Shepherds Bartolomé Esteban Murillo c. 1657

Reporter: As the crowds begin to thin, making their way home after Caesar’s census, I followed up a story of lights over a field outside of Bethlehem. Far from being an isolated incident as was first assumed, it led on to a series of connected events. I have tried to piece them together, by interviewing people involved that I have been able to trace.

The description of lights in the sky first led me to a group of shepherds a little way outside the town of Bethlehem, sheltering with their flock for the night.

Hello Jose, thank you for agreeing to tell our readers what you saw. What was it that alerted you that something out of the ordinary was happening?

Jose: It was a brightening of the sky, well before dawn. At first just a bright point of light. Then it grew and took on a human shape. Well almost human except he had wings.

Reporter: Wings! That seems unusual.

Jose: It surprised us but we saw it as clearly as I saw you. We all saw it. It was scary

Reporter: Go on, what happened next?

Jose: The angel said not to be afraid, that he had brought a message from God. He told us that a child, a saviour for us and for everyone had been born, and that we should go to him.

Reporter: Did he say where to find the child.

Jose: Only that we would find the child in a stable. He wasn’t very good with his directions but said we’d find him ok. Then a few moments later, a swarm, if that’s the right word, appeared behind the first angel. They were singing praises to God. Then they all disappeared, just sort of faded away.

Reporter: So did you go to try to find the child?

Jose: After we discussed it yes. We checked on our sheep then went into town. Bethlehem is small, it didn’t take too much asking around to find the stable. It was at the side of an inn.

Reporter: Did you go in? What did you find?

Jose: We found a young couple, with a baby boy, in a manger just like the angel said. He was asleep and his mum looked really tired and we couldn’t leave the sheep for long, so we didn’t stay long. There was something about him. He looked like any other baby but there was a feeling. Calmness, peace. A feeling I won’t forget. He’s called Jesus.

Reporter: And his parents, who are they?

Jose: I never heard. Maybe one of the others knows.

Reporter: Thank you Jose.

Writing It Off

Or paying it back.

Depiction by Jan van Hemessen (c. 1556) showing the moment the king scolds the servant.

In recent years we have from time-to-time had news reports of banks setting aside funds to cover debts that have to be written off. Debts being written off happened in Jesus’ time too, mostly in jubilee years. We hear of it at other times, most notably in The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant . In those days there is no evidence of money being set aside to cover writing off of bad debt.

The parabable, as they all are, is of course a fictional story to make a point or illustrate a truth. I wonder though if, in this instance, in the modern world the point becomes somewhat lost.

The parable tells of two servants. The first owes money to his master or king and the second owes a smaller sum to the first servant, who we might therefore reasonably assume is of higher rank than the second.

We are told that the first servant owed his master 10,000 talents, a huge sum (equating to thousands if not millions of pounds/dollars et-al today) that he would have no prospect of ever repaying. The second servant owed the first 100 denarii, a trifling sum compared to the first servant’s debt.

The king or master forgives the debt of the first servant but that servant does not in turn forgive the debt of the second. The first servant had the second thrown into prison for his debt.

The first servant’s debt was probably an exaggeration to make a point, but does the exaggeration detract from the point? With such an immense amount of money, the master must have known the servant would have no prospect of repaying it. So why had the servant had been lent so much at all?

The danger is that by focussing on such a large sum of debt, some of the point of the parable becomes ‘watered down’. Today’s generation may well focus more on the money than the hypocritical actions of the servant. Particularly taking into account the ease with which credit (and debt relief) seems to be available today.

 

 

The Poor In Spirit

A little trouble with the Beatitudes, or one of them.

The Sermon on the Mount (fresco) By Fra Angelico 1387 – 1455

We find the Beatitudes in Matthew 5: 1-12. I have had trouble for a long time with the first beatitude, found in verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (UK NIV).

The meaning of the other beatitudes seems, to me, quite clear, not so the first one. I have never been comfortable with understanding what is meant by “poor in spirit”.

As an aside, nevertheless possibly relevant, there is some opinion that considers the term “blessed” in the Beatitudes is interchangeable and could be replaced with “happy”.

However back to my original trouble, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. What does “poor in spirit” mean? The nearest I can come to finding a meaning that I can associate with the phrase is poverty of spirit. The problem with this is that it could mean lacking in spirit, possibly lacking in belief in God. Another possibility is that “poor in spirit” refers to people whose spirit gives them a sinful nature and could be happy because of it.

Both possibilities I suggest seem to be at odds with receiving a blessing. All the other beatitudes confer a blessing for a virtue, but being poor in spirit seems prima facie to be an imperfection or disbelief, maybe disobedience. What would seem to make more sense might be ‘Blessed are those who seek forgiveness”.

Any thoughts?

Talented

A different interpretation of the parable of the talents.

I have already given a few thoughts on Jesus’ Parable of The Talents in Untalented. Here I am revisiting that parable, from a different point  view. 

I think it is generally assumed that the servants were honest, but were they?

We are told in the parable that the servants knew that the master harvested “where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed” It might be inferred from that, that the master is not completely honest?

If the master were not honest, might not the servants, to whom he has entrusted sums of money also be dishonest? How can we be sure that the servants, to whom the talents were entrusted, were honest in how they ‘invested’ the master’s money ?

We know that on the master’s return, two of the servants returned to him double what he had entrusted them with. The third returned exactly what he had been given, but can we be sure the servants did not make more than they returned? Suppose they gave back to the master only what they thought they could get away with, keeping any more for themselves.

Even if they gave to the master everything they had earned, while he was away, how do we know it was earned honestly? Perhaps it was used as seed funding for cons or cheating. Maybe profiteering by buying goods and selling at inflated prices. It might have been lent out at exorbitant rates of interest, like modern day payday loans.

I do not suggest any other interpretation is wrong. I offer a possible alternative interpretation, that does not seem to be contradicted by the text.