The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
December 29, 2019 – The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Matthew’s account of the flight into Egypt by the Holy Family may sound like it’s taken from today’s news. It describes a family on the run, seeking asylum because their lives were in danger. They had to travel to a place of safety.
The urgency of their departure was highlighted by the fact that they had to leave at night. They would be traveling on their own across territory that would be unfamiliar to them. They were from the north. They were told to head south. It is about 500 miles from Jerusalem to Cairo. They walked all the way. It might have taken them weeks, if not months to make this perilous journey. Hardly any details are given about how difficult this was for the Holy Family. But we can easily imagine the challenges they faced each day. Not only were their lives in danger from bandits and wild animals, but they had to find safe places to sleep and food and drink. Most of their journey was across desert land. But they had no choice. Life and death were in the balance.
It’s important that all of us think about the survival challenges faced by Joseph, Mary and Jesus, not only at this clearly dangerous time of their lives, but everyday thereafter. Some artists and storytellers have created what I would judge as an overly romantic, even sentimental view of their lives. Statues of Mary and Joseph often present them as peaceful and calm, devout and untroubled, not to mention that they look more northern European than Jews from the Middle East. The problem is that the more we sanitize their history, the less they appear to us a model of holiness and worthy of our imitation.
A careful reading of the gospels along with some historical background of their times helps us to form a more realistic picture of their lives. Think of the actual situation that we were given last Sunday over the question surrounding Mary’s pregnancy. Recall the scene of the birth of Jesus in less than ideal circumstances. Then today we are told about the hasty and dangerous escape to save the life of Jesus and perhaps that of their whole family. We are then told that they had to stay away from their homeland, perhaps for years. Once they returned to Nazareth, Joseph had to work with his hands, day after day, to put food on the table for his family. Reliable tradition tells us that Joseph was the first to die, leaving Mary a widow. The gospel’s silence about their day-to-day life in Nazareth suggests that it was not easy. Nor was anyone’s life back then under similar circumstances.
So, when we think about their holiness and trials, be assured that they had it no better than most of us. In fact, at times they had to struggle and face fear. Just like us.
©David M. Thomas, PhD