On the Run from the Beginning
The text for this week is Matthew 2: 13-23. This is the tale of what happens to the Holy Family after the birth of Jesus. Like much of the Gospel of Matthew, the author goes to lengths to establish the connection between Jesus and the Hebrew prophetic tradition. Mathew is clearly the most Jewish of the Gospel writers and this text, among many, establishes that. At the same time it tells us much of who Jesus is and why this is unique, even in the Jewish tradition.
That Jesus is born in Bethlehem is an example of His story fulfilling the Jewish tradition. Jesus is seen as part of the Davidic tradition and an heir to the famous King of Israel. Bethlehem is called “the city of David” because it was from this, his hometown that he was called by the prophet Samuel to lead his people.
The story then shifts to the family on the run. In fear of Herod and what he may do to a rival king, the family flees to Egypt. This too mirrors the story of ancient Israel in their trek to Egypt to find safety. After the death of Herod the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and instructed them to go back to Israel. This parallels that even though Herod committed an awful crime by killing innocent children to get to Jesus, Jesus was passed over. Then the family returns from Egypt in similar fashion to the Exodus. It is where they go that is what is most interesting, and unique, especially within the Jewish tradition.
An Interesting Choice of Locale
The family goes to the region of Galilee, to the town of Nazareth specifically. Galilee was a region that was part of the northern kingdom that was conquered before the southern kingdom of Israel. It was depopulated, then repopulated with people from all over the region. It was a polyglot population. The name of Galilee itself is a shortened (Ha-galil in Hebrew) from Galil ha-goyim, which means “Circle of Peoples”. It was also a rich agricultural region and surrounded by Gentile nations. Even when the Persians allowed the Jews to return from exile, they kept this region directly controlled by the empire, not granting it the autonomy that the south had. Even after the Maccabean revolt freed Israel once again it would be 40 years until Galilee was brought under control and there was always tension between its residents and the more homogeneous Jewish population to the south.
Nazareth was a backward place, even in this region of “outsiders”. The point of this is that we see here a Jesus that is on the margins, among strangers and suspicious people from a very early point in his life. Nathaniel states (John 1:46), a very common attitude about Nazareth when he says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”. We find Jesus smack dab in the middle of “nowhere” among a group of people marginalized in Jewish society and viewed with distrust.
All of this is instructive. This shows us from the earliest days of His ministry that Jesus is among and concerned with the marginalized. This shows us a Jesus that is here for everyone. This is of course, as it should be, as next week’s Epiphany will reveal in greater detail. So much easier to believe and obey a Savior who has arrived for the least of us.
Praise Be to God