Four Contrasts Between the Shepherds and the Magi
Part Two – The Contrast of Wealth
In our previous devotion we saw the extreme contrast between the social status of the shepherds and the Magi. In today’s writing we continue to see extreme differences, but this time it involves wealth.
The lowly shepherds were not only despicable outcasts and looked down upon because of their status in society, but they were also on a par with the poor and destitute. They had little or no money of their own and probably owned no more than the sandals on their feet and the cloaks on their backs. Talk about minimum wage! Their pay was even lower than the lowest paid employee. The person who did manual labor digging ditches was paid more than the shepherds. They were so poor that they couldn’t afford a gift to bring to Jesus, so they just brought themselves.
We have many people in our cities, towns, and villages today who are working several jobs just to keep their families alive. Many do not have the means to buy Christmas gifts for their children, and must rely upon charitable institutions, and the good heartedness of others. Just putting food on the table and a roof over their heads is a daily struggle. We have the same extreme conditions between the rich and the poor in our day as existed between the shepherds and the wise men in the time when Jesus was born.
The wise men belonged to the rich and famous group. They were wealthy men of untold riches. They did not have to face a daily struggle for survival. They lived in luxury and splendor. Their closets were filled with fancy clothes, designer sandals, and linen undergarments. When they left their palaces in the east to follow the star, it was with a huge entourage. The caravan included many of high estate with a military escort to protect them and their gold.
A camel’s normal gait is about 3 mph and they can carry a load up to 300 pounds. They can travel 5-7 days without water or rest. A normal day’s travel is approximately 20 – 30 miles. Sitting on the back of a camel is not what I would call a comfortable ride and if it were me I would stop for rest many times in a day. When I used to travel with my wife on a motorcycle we would stop every one hundred miles at a rest area to relax and allow the tightness in my left shoulder to loosen. I have no doubt that these wealthy wise men took plenty of time to make the journey from Persia to Jerusalem. In fact, the context of Scripture seems to indicate that their trip took about one to two years because by the time they reached Bethlehem Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, were living in a house. (Matthew 2:11)
The shepherds and wise men were as diverse as you could get. The lowly shepherds were living in the fields eating hot dogs and roasting marshmallows over an open fire, while the wise men were feasting at banquet tables filled with wine, caviar and exotic delicacies fit for a king. I can see servants hustling about serving them with great pomp and ceremony.
The one thing that we see in this extreme contrast is that no matter how rich or poor you are in the eyes of the world—Jesus came for you. The very fact that he came to the shepherds first reveals how much the ordinary people of the world mean to him. At the same time, he did not ignore the wealthy which shows us that He came to seek and save those who were lost and “all who come to him will in no wise be cast out.” (John 6:37)