The Divine Lamp

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Dec 28~Feast of the Holy Innocence: My Notes on Today’s Gospel (Matt 2:13-18)

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 28, 2010

Mat 2:13 And after they were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.

This is the third time an angel has appeared in a dream, once to the wise men (Mt 2:20), and now, twice to Joseph (Mt 1:20; 2:13). The first appearance was to preserve the child’s davidic ancestry; the appearance to the wise men, and this appearance to Joseph, were for the purpose of preserving the child’s life.

The infancy narrative in many ways foreshadows the passion/resurrection narrative, and such is the case here.  The persecution of the infant Messiah and the life saving dream of Joseph, and, especially that of the Pagan magi, foreshadow the dream of the Pagan wife of Pilate in Mt 27:19; her dream, however, will not save the persecuted, adult Messiah, from death; yet his death was the cause of many rising from the dead (Matt 27:51-53), foreshadowing the future resurrection.

Arise, take the child and his mother. “Take” is a translation of the Greek paralambano, it is used several times in reference to St Joseph’s protection of the infant and his mother (Mt 1:20, 24; 2:20. The basic meaning of the word is”to receive near, that is, associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation).” In the passion narrative the word paradidonai is used for the “handing over” (arrest, betrayal) of Jesus (Mt 26:2, 15, 16, 21, 23, 24, 25, 45, 46, 48, 50; Matt 27:2, 3, 4, 18, 26).

The account of the persecution and flight of the Holy Family has, down through the centuries, provided comfort and hope for the followers of Jesus who would themselves suffer persecution precisely because they were his followers (Matt 5:10-12; 10:24-25; 24:16).  It also provides one of several parallels between the experience of Jesus and that of Moses (both escape death at the hands of a cruel ruler. For more Moses/Jesus parallels see here).

Mat 2:14 Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod:

He arose, he took the child and his mother. Note the parallel with the previous verse: “Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee”. This is an example of what biblical scholars call a command and compliance motif. This serves to highlight the fidelity of Joseph, “the just man,” to God’s will.

Egypt. Commentators often note that Egypt is presented as a place of refuge in the Scripture, noting passages such as Gen 10:12; 1 Kings 11:40; Jer 26:21. However, in the first text Abraham is in fear of being killed in this land of refuge; in the second the Patriarchs, who are shepherds, are told the Egyptians loathe them; in the third text, the alleged place of refuge proves ineffectual. Perhaps the flight of the Holy Family shoud be seen in the context of the Gospel narrative alone. Jesus has just been worshipped by Gentiles rather than by the rulers and authorities of his own people; now he is presented as being safe in a Gentile land as opposed to His own homeland. I see here a foreshadowing of Jesus words in Matt 8:10-12, wherein he speaks of the Gentiles reclining at table in the Kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while “the children of the Kingdom” are “cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The rejection of the infant Jesus foreshadows the rejection of his preaching by his own countrymen: “The men of Ninive shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas. And behold a greater than Jonas here. The queen of the south shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon here” (Mt 12:41-42).  The flight should probably be seen as a foreshadowing of the mission of the Church to all nations (Matt 28:19).

Mat 2:15 That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son.

This verse relates to the end of the last verse: “and he was there until the death of Herod”. It also points towards Matt 2:21. The quotation is from Hosea 11:1. In that context, the prophet is referring to the exodus from Egypt, and the statement introduces a presentation of Israel as unfaithful to God, inspite of the care he showed them (Hosea 11:2-4). This leads to the threat of exile to Egypt and Assyria because the people refuse to repent (Hosea 11:5-7). In spite of all of this, God’s love still burns for his people, He will call them once again out of Egypt (a symbol in Hosea for exile) and Assyria (Hosea 11:10-11). Jesus comes out of exile from Egypt and will be portrayed by Matthew as the perfect Israel, faithful to God (see Matt 3:15, 4:1-11). Notice too that in Hosea 11:9 God refers to Himself as “The Holy One present among you,” reminding us that Jesus is “Emmanuel,” “God with us” (Matt 1:23).

Mat 2:16 Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry: and sending killed all the men-children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

Herod, thinking that he has been “deluded” ( Greek: empaizo”mocked”, jeered at) by the gentile wise men is enraged. The word empaizo appears elsewhere in Matthew only in the passion prediction of Matt 20:19 (refeerring to gentiles) and in the passion narrative in Matt 27:29, 31 (Gentiles); Matt 27:41 (Jews). Herod’s feeling that he had been mocked led him to order the slaughter of the infants; the mocking of Jesus begins after the people state: His blood be upon us and our children” (Matt 27:25).

“Exceedingly angry” (Greek: thumoo) is used to describe the emotion of Herod. The word thumoo is used to describe the fiereceness of the possessed man in Matt 8:28. The exceeding anger of Herod contrast with the exceeding joy of the magi mentioned in Mt 2:10.

The dilligent enquiry of Herod recalls his secret examination of the wise men in Matt 2:7.

Mat 2:17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying:
Mat 2:18 A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

See Jeremiah 31:15.

Ramah is closely associated with the Assyrian debacle. It was besieged by the Assyrians (Isaiah 10:29; Hosea 5:8) as the northern kingdom of Israel disintegrated.

More to the point in Matthew’s context, it was the place where people from the southern kingdom of Judah were assembled by the Babylonians for deportation (Jeremiah 40:1). This was the low point of the Kingdom of David (Matt 1:11, 17). Matthew sees the text as a prophecy of the slaughter of the holy innocents, but, as always, whenever Matthew appeals to Scripture, it is important to note the context of the prophecy.  These words of Jeremiah are a call to cease mourning because God will change the people’s fortunes if they show true repentance.  In light of the next section of the Gospel (Matt 3:1-12; see especially the condemnation of the religious leaders in vss 7-12)  Matthew’s use of the Jeremiah text is clearly implying that King Herod is the leader of a new Babylon who drives Jesus into exile and carries off Rachael’s children. In chapter 24, with numerous allusions to the prophets, Jesus will insinuate that the leaders of the people (both political and religious) have become like the traditional enemies of God’s people.  For Matthew the new leader of the People of God is Jesus and, through Him, leaders of the Church.

2 Responses to “Dec 28~Feast of the Holy Innocence: My Notes on Today’s Gospel (Matt 2:13-18)”

  1. […] My Notes on Today’s Gospel. 12:05 AM EST. […]

  2. […] My Notes on Today’s Gospe (Matt 2:13-18). […]

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