Saturday, December 28, 2013

Homily: Holy Family: 2013

Out of Egypt have I called my son.

The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to save the Child from the terror of Herod seems to be a story designed to arouse our sympathy and concern.  In some places this Sunday is kept as Immigrant and Refugee Sunday or as an opportunity to proclaim the holiness of the family. Worthy matters no doubt.  But the account in St. Matthew’s Gospel raises more questions than it answers. Nothing is said about the heavy burden placed on St. Joseph or on Our Lady. The angelic order is simply ‘take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt.’ The safety of the Child is all that matters. There is nothing about the difficulty of the journey or what Joseph is to do for a living or where they are to stay or what they are to do. No sooner are they commanded to go than they are commanded to return to the land of Israel.  It is safe now. The Child is all that matters.

What child is this? The Child matters at this stage not because of what he does or what he says but of who he is. That is what St. Matthew wants us to see in the going to Egypt and the returning to Nazareth. Not so much geographical relocation but theological relocation.

St. Matthew wrote his Gospel for the Jews and the mere mention of Joseph and Egypt would set off in the minds of Jews a constellation of theological associations. Egypt: the place to which the patriarch Joseph had fled after his brothers had left him for dead. Egypt: the place from which the Lord God had led his people out of slavery. That tells us who this Child is: a Savior, a Savior who will be left for dead by his brothers.

Out of Egypt have I called my son. This is a quote from the prophet Hosea and refers collectively to the nation of Israel in the Exodus. This Child will reproduce in himself the whole history of the Jewish people. For forty years Israel tempted God in the wilderness; in the same wilderness for forty days Jesus will be tempted by the Devil. It was on a mountain-top that the first imperfect law was given to Moses; on a mountain-top too that Jesus gave his disciples the perfect law – “The Sermon on the Mount.” The temple was the meeting place of God and man; the temple of the body of the Lord, destroyed but raised in three days, will become the meeting place of God and man. This Child is the end, the conclusion of the whole history of Israel.

He went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene.”  No such verse existed in the Hebrew Scriptures. Possibly, Matthew had a word play in mind between the town "Nazareth" and the Hebrew word "nazir," meaning "concentrated to God." Samuel was the prime example of a nazir, one whose life was given to God from birth. ‘ a holy person consecrated to God. Isaiah 11:1 called a future Davidic king a "nazir."

This is why this Child must be saved and why paradoxically in the end he cannot be saved that every child might be saved.  “His hour has not yet come” he will tell his mother at the Wedding at Cana.  But the whole of human history awaits that hour. So must we.

Out of Egypt have I called my son.

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