Where Ought we Expect to Find God?
The birth story of Jesus (in Matthew) makes the unmistakeable point that God can be found in the outcast, the refugee, the powerless and the oppressed.
Oppressed from Rome and the Jewish Elites
So far I’ve made the points that the Gospel stories in general (and in particular, at least for these articles, the Infancy Narratives) were not only stories intended to inspire hope in its original audience, but were designed to stir up a spirit of revolution. They were narratives counter to those of Empire. They were (to use modern vernacular) political stories, yet in our modern context (especially because here in America, we’re the Empire) we’ve reduced them to be merely religious stories.
Then, building on that, whereas we often see nativity scenes with the backdrop of a cozy stable, I suggested that we keep in mind that the metaphorical backdrop of the birth story of Jesus was actually far more complex. With the boot of Rome pressed upon the exiles-in-our-own-land Jewish necks, and with the triple-taxing of the puppet ruler King Herod bleeding the people dry, Jesus was born into a complex context of oppression and depression.
If you were a typical Jewish peasant at that time, then:
You were living in a land that you no longer owned but had to work hard in order to pay your taxes to Rome, to Herod, and to the temple.
You worshipped at a temple that you had to worship at (because you were a good Jew), but every time you went you had to walk under a giant Eagle—a massive middle finger to the Lord.
You gave tithes and offerings to priests who were in the pocket of Herod, who was in the pocket of Caesar. And,
You had no power and no voice because all the power was given to families who were also in the pocket of Herod, and the pocket of Rome.
Safe to say that by time Jesus is born Herod was widely loathed by the general population. As if life in exile weren’t hard enough, Herod pressed even further upon the liberties and the livelihood of Jewish communities. The only Jews pleased with Herod were the newly established aristocracy Herod created to help control the people. In fact, in Matthew’s Gospel note how the author wrote, “when King Herod heard [the magi had arrived searching for the baby who would one day be King of the Jews], he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled.” The “everyone” in that sentenced pointed to the High Priests at the temple and the elite families chosen by Herod.
Meaning, the whole system, the empire within an Empire that Herod had been establishing through his ruthless rule over the past 30+ years, was now coming under threat by the birth of some baby.
So what does he do?