THE INFANCY NARRATIVES: PART 1
Before we start our study of the Infancy Narratives we need to make sure that we listen to the teaching of the Church. In 1964 the Church issued a document entitled, “An instruction concerning the historical truth of the Gospels”. (Sancta Mater Ecclesia) We will take note of just three key points.
“The evangelists tell us about Christ with the clearer understanding which they enjoyed after they had been instructed by the events of Christ’s risen life.” The disciples did not really understand who Jesus was while he was alive and living with them. It was only after he had risen and they had come to this new understanding that their memories of what had taken place during his life started to make sense to them.
“The Gospel reflects, the preoccupation of the first Christian Community. It seeks less to relate the actions of the man from Nazareth than to show the risen Jesus speaking to his Church.” (the Christian Community)
As the Gospel Writers composed their Gospels they were writing about the Risen Christ active in their community. Of course the memories and sayings of Jesus were an essential resource. “There was theology in the text and history behind the text.”
Finally the Church tells us that we must, “Respect the genre (Type of literature) A Gospel is a story about Jesus, a faith-based story. Every line shows the author’s faith in Jesus who died and is risen.”
We have read about the many types of literature in the Bible. Let me just list a few; myth, the creation stories; legend, the stories about the Israelites escaping from Egypt; parable, the Good Samaritan; riddle, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk.’” Mk 2: 9
As you read the Infancy Narratives one needs to adjust one’s thinking. This is a different kind of literature. The scholars tell us that these stories were the last to be composed. It is interesting to see the ‘backward’ process that took place. It was the accounts of the passion, death, and resurrection that first developed. We see this happening in the first chapters of Acts. Peter gives a number of sermons. One message appears repeatedly, “Jesus Christ the Nazorean who you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” (Acts 4: 10) After these stories, Miracle stories developed and Sayings were written down. Last of all the Infancy Narratives appeared.
Only two of the Gospels tell the stories about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, Matthew and Luke.
Let’s have a little test. I am going to give you a list to events that appear in the two accounts. I want you to mark which ones are found in Matthew’s or Luke’s Gospel.
Jesus laid in a manger – Kings visit baby Jesus – Shepherds visit baby Jesus
Jesus presented in Temple – The Star – Flight into Egypt
Angel Gabriel speaks to Mary – Simeon -Slaughter of the Children – Ox and the Donkey
Here are those that appear in Matthew’s Gospel. Most of the others appear in Luke:
Kings visit baby Jesus; The Star; Flight into Egypt; Slaughter of the Children. One feature in the above list does not appear in either Gospel; the presence of the “Ox and the Donkey.” So how did the ox and the donkey get into the Crib? For the answer we need to go to Isaiah 1: 3 “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger. But Israel does not know, my people has not understood.” Just pause with this text for a moment. How well do I know Jesus?
By this time one is probably beginning to feel confused. What is going on? How can the two accounts differ so much? The writers never intended their stories to be a diary of the events. This is not a history. Both writers are telling us Truths about the Adult Jesus. Each writer is painting a different portrait of the Adult Jesus. Raymond Brown has a wonderful Book titled “An Adult Christ at Christmas”. These two accounts are certainly not children’s stories. They are meant to be read by adults. They carry profound Truths about Christ. Much of what we read in these accounts has deep symbolic meaning. There is no attempt to throw anything out or to take away from these stories.
What we will be trying to do is plumb the depth of meaning contained within them. We are going to grow in our faith as we come to appreciate how profoundly Matthew and Luke were writing.
“But what do I tell the children?” It is still vitally important that we continue to bring children to the Crib and introduce them to the ‘Baby Jesus’. However as they grow older we will start to instruct them about the Truths behind the stories.
Over the Christmas period read each Infancy Story and try to see what they tell us about the Adult Christ. Next month we will explore these Truths. Happy Christmas.