We are studying Matthew 2:7-15 for Sunday, December 20, which is part of the nativity story as told in the gospel of Matthew. Some notes on the text are here (and here). Here are some questions we might want to consider or discuss in class:
We might want to think about the way “calling” is used in the text. Where is the word “called” used? Who is called? Who does the calling? For what purpose?
Are there “callings” that we would say are in the text, but don’t use that word? What are they? Again, who is called, who does the calling, for what purpose?
What lessons about “calling” do we learn from exploring this text this way? How do we think those lessons might affect, or help, us?
One of the central characters in the story is Herod; he confers secretly with the magi, gives them instructions, and his motives and plans determine a lot of the plot of the story.
If we think of Herod as a person – that is, if we spend some time thinking about what kind of person he was, how he might have felt and thought, and so on – what do we notice about him? How would we describe him? What are his plans and purposes, do we think? How well does he achieve them? What does he not achieve? Do we learn anything from all this? What? Does he remind us of anyone we know – or of ourselves? How? How do we feel about that? Why?
Alternatively, we could think of Herod as a symbol – a figure who represents something else, something in our world. If we do that, what do we think he symbolizes or represents? Do we see people we recognize reflected in Herod? Do we see ourselves reflected in Herod in any way? How? Do we learn anything from this exercise? What?
Another set of central characters in the story are the magi: they have seen a star that means something to them, they have made a journey, with gifts, they encounter Herod, and also Jesus and his family, they return to their own country.
Again, if we think of these magi as people – think about what kind of people they would have been, how they spent their ordinary days, what they seem to have cared about, what they seem to have been trying to accomplish – what do we notice about them? How would we describe them? What do we learn from these people? Do they remind us of anyone we know? How are they like us, and different from us? How do we feel about that? Why?
And then, if we think of the magi as symbols – as figures who represent something else, something in our world – what do they seem to represent? A quality, for instance, like … devotion, or inquisitiveness, or … ? Or, an attitude towards living, or towards the Christ? Do we see anything or anyone in our own world reflected in the magi? Who or what? Why? Do we learn anything from all of this?
We could do the same exercise for Joseph: thinking of Joseph as a concrete human being, experiencing the events described in the story, taking the actions he takes, demonstrating some particular human qualities – what are those? – and having particular thoughts, feelings, plans, hopes and fears, purposes, constraints, and so on. If we do that, what do we notice? What impact does noticing that have on us?
Alternatively, we could think of Joseph as representing or symbolizing something important in our world. If we do that, what do we notice, and what impact does that have on us?
What does this story add to what we know about Joseph from the story last week? How?
We might be inclined to overlook the narrator, who is in a way also a character in this story. What is this narrator doing, or trying to do? Do we get any sense of the narrator as a person from the story? Does it matter to us who we imagine is telling this story? How? Why is that, do we think?
Although we have most likely heard this story annually for decades, we still have an opportunity to think about it more deeply, and from more than one angle. If we do that, we may see that this familiar story still has a lot to tell us, maybe something like those treasure chests the wise men open up to take out their gifts …
Image: “Das Jagdfrühstück,” Hugo Mühlig, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons