In yesterday’s post, I touched briefly on a few of the Scriptural connections between the stories of Jesus’ conception, birth, and infancy and the passion, death, and resurrection. In further reflection yesterday, I was struck over and over again by these ties and the fact that they highlight the organic whole of the Christian event, the fact that is Jesus Christ – the wholeness or one-ness of the Jesus story. Let’s take a moment to simply highlight some of these connections between Christ’s birth and death. Many of these are cataloged in Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives and I would not consider this list exhaustive, the references complete, or in perfect chronological order – the events are too mysterious and dynamic to accomplish such a feat. Nevertheless, there is plenty to ponder here:
- The journey required by Roman custom/law to a place outside of Jerusalem (Lk. 2:1-5; Lk. 23:32-33).
- Birth and death happen outside of the town/city (Lk. 2:7; Lk. 23:32)
- The virgin mother is involved in the journey in both cases, and is centrally involved in the action and the theology of both the birth and the death of Jesus, outside of the town/city.
- The virgin mother wraps the son in swaddling clothes (Lk. 2:7), which resemble in some way the shroud that would cover the dead Lord (Lk. 23:53).
- He lays in what presumably is a stable (given the reference to a manger in Lk. 2:7), which, according to Benedict XVI, would have been a rocky cave, as was customary in the area around Bethlehem from ancient times. This image is akin to the “rock-hewn tomb” in which his body would rest after his death (Lk. 23:53). In both cases, the virgin mother is central to the process of laying him in the rock-hewn neonatal unit/tomb (Lk. 2:7; Mk. 15:47).
- He is laid to rest in/on a manger, customarily made out of wood (Lk. 2:7) and sleeps the sleep of death on the wood of the cross (Lk. 23:32-ff).
- The reference to “King of the Jews” (Lk. 23:38) is one that is Gentile in nature – the Jews themselves would have referred to the king as King of Israel. The reference to King of the Jews is also used by the wise men in Mt. 2:2 – Gentiles using the same title in reference to his birth as would be noted by Gentiles in his death.
- The wise men/Gentiles come and pay homage to the Lord (Mt. 2:11) before giving gifts. The Gospels in the passion narratives recount not homage paid to Jesus by the Romans/Gentiles, but mockery. They give Jesus different “gifts” or perhaps anti-gifts in the scourging, the crown, the cross, the vinegar to drink, and the lance to the side. In both cases, kingship is central to the imagery – exalted on one hand, and mocked on the other. The particular gifts provided by the Magi also have ties to his death, particular the myrrh used for preservation and the tribulation of entering the afterlife (which Jesus would not need).
Perhaps we will end this reflection here and we can all continue to ponder the mystery of Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended for the sake of our salvation. The unity of His life, the unity of the Christian event is worth marveling at in silent meditation. Hopefully these next few weeks afford all of us the time to do so.