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So That What Had Been Spoken Might be Fulfilled

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Dec. 29, 2013 
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14
Colossians 3:12-21 or 3:12-17
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Only Matthew tells the story of the flight into Egypt. Not for a moment did the evangelist forget that he was telling the story to a Jewish audience who knew the Scriptures. Again and again Matthew used almost any story to prove that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.

Matthew wants the Jews to know that the main reason the Holy Family traveled to Egypt is so that Jesus might relive the Exodus experience of Israel: “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.” Historically, Egypt was where the Jews fled when they had to escape some new persecution.

Again, when the danger had passed and the Holy Family traveled to Nazareth, Matthew cited another passage from the Old Testament: “…so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, He shall be called a Nazarene.” Just how important it was to Matthew to show connections with Old Testament prophecies can be seen by the fact that the town of Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, and there is no such prophecy. Matthew, though, seemed to see a connection between Nazareth and words in the Old Testament that had a similarity to the name of that town. In this story we are looking for religious truth. The truth that Matthew was establishing was that Jesus was the Messiah the Jews were expecting.

Many great artists have been inspired by a bit of New Testament Apocrypha that recounts the “Rest of the Flight into Egypt.” There are tales of palm trees bowing before the infant Jesus and camels paying him homage. One story says that Salome was Jesus’ nurse. There is a church in Egypt said to be built on the place where Jesus, Mary and Joseph stayed. The fact is that we know very little about the Holy Family’s time in Egypt or, for that matter, the first thirty years of Jesus’ life. And so we imagine. We build our poetry, our art and our tales on what we do know and our tales become mythic, capturing truths that we are certain are “truer than fact.”

The liturgy calls to mind the wider family of humankind. It recalls the family into which we have been baptized. It reminds us of those who have no one whom they call Father because they have not met the Lord. This is the way of the Lord--to gather us around him and to encourage us to walk in his ways.

The power of today's celebration, converging as it does with the feeling that it is still Christmas, is overwhelming. Perhaps we do best to treasure its message in our hearts and allow it to grow as Jesus' mother did.

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