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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.

In verse thirteen, to Egypt: The Romans took over Egypt in 30BC. It was outside Herod’s jurisdiction. Egypt had long been a place of refuge and exile for Jews. It was a logical place to flee to. It was also a theological place. Matthew sees the whole Exodus story- from how Jews got to Egypt to how they got out of Egypt- repeated, although in a higher key, in the Jesus story. If the life of Jesus is relived, repeated, re-presented in the life of the Christian, then the life of Israel was recapitulated in the life of Jesus.

Herod…search…to destroy him: The phrasing here is reminiscent of Pharaoh’s determination to kill Moses according to Exodus 2:15 and “destroy,” appears again in the passion narrative at 27:20.

In verse fourteen, Joseph rose and took the child: This phrase is repeated four times in this story in verses thirteen, fourteen, twenty and twenty-one, twice by an angel in the imperative mood and twice by the narrator in the indicative mood. Matthew is making very clear that Joseph is obedient to God’s “dreams,” God’s word, no matter where it takes him and under what circumstances. He is presented as the model disciple. Like God, as the heavenly Father of Jesus, who becomes also “Son,” so the foster father of Jesus becomes also Jesus’ “son,” in his role as disciple.

In verse fifteen, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”: Matthew gives us a lesson in “patterns,” of revelation as opposed to “details.” In fact the quotation from Hosanna 11:1 is calling the son Hosanna, but Matthew has “my son,” out of Egypt, whereas the story as told by Matthew has the son going into Egypt. Of course, at a later point, the son will be called out. First, Matthew has to get him in. Neither is Matthew bothered by the detail of “his children,” Mattleans leans heavily on LXX but quotes from other versions or makes up his own. He finds the version which reads “my son,” more appropriate, so he uses it. The original context is Israel’s, hence, “children,” exodus from Egypt. And Israel as a collectivity could also be called “my son.” Matthew’s point is that Jesus repeats the experience of Israel, whom he represents in his individual person – as son in “exodus-ing” from Egypt. The Old Testament prophets saw the original Exodus as a prefiguring of the ultimate Messianic salvation in the future. Here, for the first time in Matthew, Jesus is clearly referred to as “God’s Son.”

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Clarence Clough

commented on Dec 15, 2006

Thanks for the insight. Good words.

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