It happened again this month. I was studying to teach and I couldn’t find a thread through texts. I mean, how do you understand something new about the Magi? How do you understand something new about Simeon?
I kept starting with the hospital setting, because that’s where I speak. But I reminded myself to start with the text. So I started exploring the texts with the kind of questions that take me into the story.
I ask about time: How much calendar and clock time is contained in this story?
I ask about the people: Do we know anything about their characteristics, about their personalities, about their heritage, about their worries?
I ask about the story context: What comes before this? What comes after? What other stories in other books of the Bible does this story connect to? What big story is this a scene in?
I ask about the storyteller: Why is this story included here? What details don’t we have that we could have? How might the story have gotten to this writer?
I ask about the setting: How far is this place from other places? How long would it take to travel there? How does knowing that Jerusalem and Bethlehem are only about five miles apart shape how we understand the stories of Simeon and of the wise men? (I’m reading Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Father James Martin these days. He talks about how seeing the geography shapes his understanding of the stories.)
I ask about the people in the scene: Who are the people we know? How likely are there to be other people? Is the temple an empty place or crowded? (If empty, why did Jesus get so upset at the merchants?).
I sometimes ask about popular legend: Were there really three wise men in the text or was that added? Were they really at the manger with the shepherds or is that a Christmas pageant convenience?
Usually, when I start moving into the story, I start seeing how it matters to me.