Summary: Year A. December 30, 2001 Matthew 2: 13-23 Title: “Does environment matter?”

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Year A. December 23, 2001 Matthew 2: 13-23

Title: “Does environment matter?”

Joseph flees to Egypt with Jesus and Mary because Herod is out to kill the child Jesus. When safe, they return and take up residence in Nazareth.

If Joseph or Mary or both, had told Jesus stories of his infancy, about events he would have been too humanly young to know or remember, Jesus could not have helped but notice the parallels between his childhood experiences and those of Moses. Early on in his life he must have become used to seeing his own life foreshadowed in the lives of the Old Testament “greats.” He must have been struck by the patterns. The parallels were more in the general patterns than in the specific details. This Moses typology is not a major theme in the gospel as such, but it is more explicit in this story than anywhere else.

Now, not all of Jesus’ or Matthew’s information came from Scripture. There were many legends, stories, maxims, etc, that were passed on from generation to generation, as in all cultures as they educate their young. Not all stories were recorded in Scripture. One very popular one, recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus, tells how a sacred scribe, an astrologer?, foretold to Pharaoh the birth of the deliverer of the Hebrews. Alarmed, Pharaoh ordered the slaughter of all young male children. Moses’ father, as the story goes, was told in a dream that his son, the one destined to deliver the Hebrews from Pharaoh, was in mortal danger. So, he took steps to rescue him from the massacre. The details between this story and the story of the slaughter of the innocent children and flight into Egypt are different, but the pattern is the same. The nuances of the story as told by Matthew would not have been lost on a Jewish audience. Jesus is the deliverer of the new Israel as Moses was of the old. God is doing a new thing here, but using the same old pattern. Nor should the irony be lost either. For the moment, innocent children die so that Jesus may be saved, only to have Jesus later die that all might be saved from their sins. Masterfully, Matthew gets Jesus, born in Bethlehem, to Nazareth via Egypt and all of it “in order to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet.” Joseph is depicted as the “fulfillment,” of Joseph of the Old Testament. Both interpret dreams and both save their family by going into Egypt. Both subordinated their own dreams of how their lives should and could be to God’s “dreams,” putting his “dreams,” first. Besides alluding to the Old Testament, Matthew also cites it explicitly in five instances in these two introductory chapters of his work. These citations, introduced by a similar formula “This was to fulfill…,” want to show that God prepared for a virginal conception (1: 23), for the birth of the Messiah at Bethlehem (2:6), for his son’s coming back from Egypt (2: 15), for the death of other children near Rachel’s tomb (2:18), and for his going to Nazareth (2: 23). By the end of chapter two, the reader is more familiar with the Old Testament and how it can be applied to later situations.

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Clarence Clough

commented on Dec 15, 2006

Thanks for the insight. Good words.

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