Read Luke 2:1-5. What lessons can we learn from the ways in which these two faithful followers of the Lord interacted with their political environment?
Since the time of the early republic, the Romans recognized how important written laws were for the governance of society. In fact, the system of constitutional law established by the Romans remains a foundation of the legal systems found in many of today’s democratic societies.
For the most part, Rome allowed vassal kingdoms to maintain their own customs, but all subjects were expected to obey imperial and senatorial laws. Obviously, this included Joseph and Mary.
Roman law was concerned with order in society. As such, it not only addressed issues of government but also legislated behavior in the domestic arena. In addition to stipulating the procedures for selecting people to public office, Roman law also dealt with things such as adultery and master/slave relationships. Many of the social codes are similar to the ones found in the Old Testament and other societies.
All attempts to understand the culture in which the New Testament books were composed must take into account the fact that the Roman Empire formed the political backdrop for the world in which Jesus and the early church lived. Many things taking place in the New Testament, from the death of Jesus to the imprisonment of Paul, make much better sense when we understand whatever we can about the environment of their times. Of course, one doesn’t need to be a scholar of Roman history in order to understand that which we need for salvation. However, when it is possible for us to obtain it, historical knowledge can indeed be helpful.
Despite the amazing providences of Mary’s pregnancy and the obvious hand of the Lord in it, these two people still obeyed the law of the land, which required them to leave their home, even when Mary was quite far along in her pregnancy. Would it not have been better simply to have stayed home, considering the extraordinary circumstances? What might their actions say to us about how we should relate to civil law? (Think how easy it would have been for them to have justified not obeying.)