• Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 • Colossians 3:12-21 • Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 • Holy Family A ’14 •
Scripture Readings: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Print PDF: Weekly Homily 12.29.2013
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. It was only in 1921 that this long popular devotion became a part of our liturgical calendar. Alarmed by and hoping to counter that which he perceived as increasing threats to the family unit, Benedict XV placed this feast on the Sunday after Christmas. Ironically, the text from Matthew’s gospel selected for this feast is not really about family life at all. There is nothing in this text about nuclear family life or interactions. It is filled with echoes of and parallels with Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. That poses a problem for me as a homilist. It is my responsibility to ponder and speak about the text, not about some meaning imposed on it.
This text is a portion of Matthew’s infancy narrative. In composing their infancy narratives, Luke and Matthew each crafted a theological introduction to their gospel. These are not historical narratives and differ in many ways. Their purpose is to help the reader grasp the significance of what they were about to read of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the year 70 A.D the Romans had destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the great Temple. In the decades following the Jewish communities struggled to survive and retain their identity. Eventually they expelled the followers of Jesus from their community. Matthew wrote sometime in that period when the young Christian communities were struggling to create their own identity apart from the Jews.
Matthew’s entire gospel is fulfillment theology. The expelled Christians felt deeply alienated from their ethnic roots and questioned, “who are we?” Matthew claims the Christian community is the new Israel. He wrote his gospel to show the history of the Jewish people and their ancient Hebrew texts were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.
Today we hear an event recorded only by Matthew. It is the flight of the Holy Family to and their return from Egypt. The parallels with Moses are many. The ancestors of Moses had been exiled to Egypt. An angel told Joseph to take his family and flee into Egypt. Pharaoh massacred all male infants in an attempt to kill the infant Moses. Herod does the same in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus. Moses liberates his people and leads them out of Egypt. Jesus comes out of Egypt to liberate his people. On Mount Sinai Moses gave the Decalogue to his people. In Galilee Jesus gave the Beatitudes to his disciples, the new Israel.
Here is a more important point. In Matthew’s theological introduction, he is preparing the reader to see that Jesus, the one raised by God, has replaced the Temple. He is “Emmanuel,” “God with us,” the new presence of God in the world.
Matthews’ point is that Jesus is the awaited Messiah. In him a new age, a new creation is emerging. He comes to liberate all of us for a new relationship with God, each other, and even our enemies.
So the task presented to us in every age is the same. We Christians still ask, “who are we?” As community, as families, and as individuals we need to identify what or how Christmas is important for us on the practical level. That is our task.
The family farms are gone. The corner “Mom and Pop” stores are gone. Big families are gone. Employment separates nuclear families. Nations disintegrate as millions of refugees are displaced by war and violence. Perhaps Matthew’s gospel reminds us it has always been that way. But maybe, maybe displacement and human suffering was never as intense as it is today.
I don’t’ know how we can do it. But I am convinced we are called to help create a world where immigrants, refugees and all people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome and belonging. The implications of Christmas for our nuclear families and for the larger world are many. The Internet and wireless phones connect us as one global family. In Christ, a new age, a new creation is emerging.