To shepherds and to us
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then the angel of the Lord stood before them...” When we hear these familiar words from the Christmas narrative, the sentimental lens through which we read gives us the image of gentle and devout men prepared for a visitation from God. In contrast, first-century Rabbinic texts describe shepherds as a rough, thieving bunch who stole from their employers and surrounding land owners.
Which view is correct? Were the shepherds gentle, devout herders, or disreputable thieves? They were probably neither, instead ordinary people doing a job that was necessary for their communities, but nonetheless held in contempt by many of those who benefitted from their labor. What we know from the narrative is that they were so highly valued by God that He sent Jesus for their salvation.
We live in a polarized society that tends to view people as either good or evil. If we like a person, they can do nothing wrong, and we find ways to justify even their worst behavior. If we dislike a person, they can do nothing good, and we can find fault with even their most noble efforts. We do the same thing with racial, ethnic and gender groups; political parties; and even entire nations.
Every heart has the capacity for both good and evil. From the story of the appearance of the angel to shepherds, we can learn to resist the temptation to view people as one dimensional, either wholly admirable or wholly ignoble. The message we hear at Christmas inspires us to view each person as one so valued by God that Jesus came to free them from sin and death. To us, all of us, was born a savior who is Christ the Lord.