by Father Mike Stubbs
Our state is known for many things: John Brown, Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Dorothy and “The Wizard of Oz.” Kansas is also noted for its fields of wheat and herds of cattle, which produce some of the best beef in the world.
The little town of Bethlehem in the land of Israel also had gained quite a reputation in ancient times for its agriculture. The name itself, “Bethlehem,” means “house of bread” in Hebrew. That suggests that it stood out for its production of grain. It was a bread basket, so to speak. As for livestock, one of the most famous residents of Bethlehem herded sheep as a young boy before becoming King David.
Otherwise, Bethlehem was regarded as fairly insignificant. One of the few times that the Old Testament even mentions it is in regard to the prophet Samuel seeking out David to anoint him as king (1 Sm 16:1).
It is because of Bethlehem’s connection to King David that Sunday’s first reading — Mi 5:1-4a — singles out Bethlehem as the place that will give a new ruler to Israel. Like King David, this new ruler will be a shepherd — not just of sheep, but of the nation.
The prophet Micah probably had in mind a leader who would rescue Israel from the military threat of Assyria. That danger is mentioned in the verse immediately following our reading: “If Assyria invades our country and treads upon our land.” That is the context in which Micah first uttered this prophecy.
But as Christians, we place it in the larger context of world history. The peace that is promised by the prophecy is not merely temporary relief from worldly enemies, but rather the peace that comes from God, the peace that surpasses understanding. The ruler is not one preoccupied with affairs of state, but rather, Christ the king.
He is the one who has been born in the little town of Bethlehem. He is the ruler whose birth we celebrate.
Modern Bethlehem is a fairly large town. It boasts a Catholic university. And, of course, its population swells considerably at Christmas. It has grown far beyond its humble beginnings.
Sunday’s first reading reminds us how Bethlehem started out small: “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah.” It was only appropriate that the tiny baby born there would become the King of the universe.