First Sunday after Christmas (Holy Family) – 29 December 2019
Lectionary Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Ps 128:1-5; Col 3:12-21; Matt 2:13-15, 19-23
Theme: Who is Jesus?

The gospel tells us a story which has four parts: The visit of the magi, the flight into Egypt of the Holy Family to escape the terror of Herod, the massacre of innocent children, and the return from Egypt and the settlement in Nazareth. The story of the Holy Family under threat can resonate with thousands of families today who are being threatened by a cruel leader or who are at risk because of war and violence and because of this they have to settle far from their former homeland. Through Matthew’s use of echoes and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures, we can see that he is not just telling us a story of a family victimized by a wicked king but he is presenting to us who Jesus is.

Egypt was the place of refuge for those who feared for their lives in Judea: Jeroboam who fled to Egypt when Solomon tried to kill him (1 Kgs 11:40) and Uriah who fled to Egypt when Jehoiakim tried to murder him (Jer 26:21). Matthew presents the flight of Jesus’ family into Egypt with reference to Hosea 11:1 which says “out of Egypt I called my son” and is introduced by the phrase: “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matt 2:15) which implies Jesus’ divine sonship that is in accord with God’s will as revealed in the Bible.

Brown says the phrase “and they fell down and paid him homage” (Matt 2:11) to describe the action of the magi upon seeing the child Jesus has implicit citation of Isaiah 60:5 and Psalm 72:11. This emphasizes the role of Jesus as son of Abraham “in whom all nations of the earth are blessed” (Gen 22:18) for at his birth the expectations of people are met. Kings from Sheba and Saba will pay him homage and bring gifts honoring him not just as king of the Jews but as the king who rules over the nations as well. Herod’s order to kill the two-year and younger male children in Bethlehem and surrounding regions brings to mind the order of Pharaoh to kill young male Hebrews and the story of Moses. The parallels between the stories of Moses and Jesus include the decree of death from a wicked ruler, flight to escape the decree, the massacre of innocent children and the return after the death of the wicked king.

The impression is that Matthew sought to express the continuity between Moses and Jesus. Harrington says that when we read the gospel in full against the background of Exodus 1-2, Jesus emerges as a Moses-figure. This Moses-typology roots Jesus in the history of Israel. Harrington also says that while Matthew pointed his readers backward to Moses, he also pointed them forward to Jesus’ passion and death as we are given hints of the passion narrative. We learn that from the start Jesus was associated with suffering, opposition and death (Matt 2: 2-4, 16, and 20).

With the use of parallels to narratives in Jewish history, Matthew tells us who Jesus is and what his life mission is. Jesus is God’s divine son, the king of all nations, the Moses-like figure who leads us to a new covenant with God. Despite his divine sonship and his being a king he will have to endure a great deal of suffering.

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] Who is Jesus in your life today? [2] Can you be a faithful follower of Jesus without suffering? [3] What are the threats to the family today? How can you help solve them?

Bibliography: Brown, R. The Birth of the Messiah (New York: 1993); Harrington, D., ed, Sacra Pagina. The Gospel of Matthew (Minnesota: 2007).

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