Year A: The Holy Family

Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23

When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed thereuntil the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,“Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you know about your ancestors? Are there ways in which your life is a fulfillment of their hopes and dreams? Explain
  2. How does your belief that we are all beloved children of God affect the interactions in your own family?
  3. How is your family a life giving experience of holiness for you? In what ways? 
  4. How does today’s reflection expand or challenge your ideas of what family holiness is or encompasses?

Biblical Context

Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23
Margaret Nutting Ralph, PHD

We will understand a great deal more of the significance of Matthew’s stories surrounding Jesus’ birth if we remember that Matthew’s audience is primarily Jewish. As Matthew teaches his post-resurrection insights concerning Jesus’ role the fulfillment of God’s promises to them and the embodiment of the history of the people. In Matthew’s Gospel, and only in Matthew’s Gospel, we read about the and identity he is helping his Jewish contemporaries understand that Jesus is slaughter of the babies that caused the angel to tell Joseph to take his family to Egypt. This story would remind a Jewish reader of Moses. There was also a slaughter of babies when Moses was born. That is why the infant Moses was put into the basket and placed on the riverbank, where the Pharaoh’s daughter found him (see Exod 1:15-2:10). By weaving this image from Moses’ birth around his story of Jesus’ birth Matthew is teaching that Jesus is the new Moses. This will be a theme throughout Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus will be presented as the new Moses who has authority from God to give a new law.

Matthew tells us that Joseph and his family stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod. A Jewish reader would be well aware that Joseph, Jesus’ father, was not the first Joseph to flee to Egypt and thereby save his family. Joseph the patriarch also fled to Egypt when his brothers plotted to kill him. Later, when there was a famine, Joseph’s family had to come to Egypt and ask Joseph for food. Joseph became God’s instrument of salvation for his family from famine and death (see Gen 37:1-47:52). Jesus will save not only his family, but the whole human race. Jesus will feed his people, not with bread, but with Eucharist. He will give them not just an extended life on earth, but eternal life.

When the danger is over an angel tells Joseph to return to the land of Israel. In telling this part of the story Matthew again uses the formula that we noted last Sunday: “… that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled— ” Matthew says, “He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son” The prophet whom Matthew is quoting is Hosea. In Hosea the words my son refer to the nation Israel. Hosea, in recalling the exodus experience and teaching his contemporaries about God’s faithful love, says:

When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. (Hos 11:1)

Once again Matthew is teaching that Jesus is the embodiment of the history of his people and the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to them.

Obedient to the angel’s guidance, Joseph takes his family to Nazareth. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ being raised in Nazareth also fulfills the words of the prophets: “He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, I He shall be called a Nazorean.’” There is no single Old Testament source for this quotation. Scripture scholars suggest that Matthew is calling to his readers’ minds other great historical figures in the history of Israel: Samson, who was a “Nazirite,” who saved his people during the period of the judges (Judg 13:1-16:31), as well as David, the great king. Perhaps there is a word play on Isaiah 11:1 that says of David: “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, / and from his roots a bud [neser] shall blossom.

United to God

Paige Byrne Shortal

Every year we watch our favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And at least once during the holidays, as the noise level increases, it’s pretty much guaranteed that my husband will proclaim, in his best George Bailey imitation: “You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?”

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It’s one of those feasts that originated from the ground up. It was a popular devotion long before it was a part of the official church calendar. It wasn’t until 1921 that Pope Benedict XV, alarmed by the increasing threat to the family unit, declared this feast a church-wide observance. Even in the 1920s there was concern about the breakdown of the family as industrialization gradually replaced the life of the family farm and Mom-and-Pop store. Big families were less viable and younger members moved away from their childhood homes, leaving their elders behind. Fast-forward almost a century. Too many children are placed in the care of strangers while both parents work and distant grandparents grow old with empty arms and laps. Families are being redefined, which isn’t all bad, but challenging.

A 30-something friend of mine said he was trying to think of good reasons to have children. He thought he wanted to be a father, but it’s not like he needed kids to help work the farm. “Kids are expensive,” he pointed out. “And they take so much time.” (And, I thought, sometimes they break your heart.) Did I know of any logical rationale to support the idea of having children? Quoting church teaching on the sacrament of marriage was not going to satisfy this guy so I was forced to ponder the wisdom behind the teaching.

Here’s what I said: It is the nature of all love to be generative — to create or build or transform. Most married couples express that love by creating new life with whom they share their love. Some couples choose to adopt or foster children who need a temporary home. Others direct their passion to projects or a mission or creating a home open to others. However it is expressed, love cannot simply feed on itself. It must create. It must be shared. If we cannot understand that love is not so much a “feeling” but a “doing,” the family will be capsized by the first threatening storm that comes along.

If any family was ever threatened, it was the family of Jesus. In today’s Gospel we hear about them becoming refugees, forced to flee a cruel government and certain death. Think about it a moment. In a culture where the extended family was everything, these three people, united by God, their love and their common purpose, struck out on their own into a land of strangers and strange ways.

Think of our world today and how many people are forced to become refugees and displaced persons within their own countries due to war, threats of violence, poverty and natural disasters. Perhaps everyone who hears today’s Gospel should consider adopting the mission statement of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration: “Creating a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome and belonging.”

This is a worthy purpose in life, and we can each start by making our homes a haven of hospitality; our parishes a place where discrimination is not allowed; our pew a seat where the stranger feels welcome. It’s what Jesus would do.

Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.