Monday, June 2, 2014

A Journey With Matthew - Day 2

You can read Matthew 2:1-23 here.

The first twelve verses of this chapter are quite familiar, and are read every year on the Feast of the Epiphany. Matthew doesn't give us shepherds keeping watch of their flocks by night, nor is there a choir of angels - that's Luke's story. Instead, Matthew gives us these travelers from the east who come bearing gifts and to pay him homage.

What strikes me today though, especially in light of my Spanish Language and Hispanic Ministry experience last week, comes in verses 13-15. Jesus and his family were immigrants - or maybe more accurately they were political refugees in Egypt for an indeterminate amount of time. Matthew doesn't mention any census that took Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem; he just announces that is where the birth takes place. But no sooner has the child been born than the political situation requires that they flee to Egypt, until the death of King Herod. Was it weeks? Months? Years? Matthew doesn't tell us; only that the innocent back in Bethlehem suffer because of Herod's rage and that even after Herod's death, Joseph is afraid to go back there. So eventually the "holy family" make their way to Nazareth in Galilee, where they make their home.

I know this chapter is almost certainly midrash - and that Matthew wants this Joseph to get to Egypt (just as Torah-Joseph was in Egypt) so that New Moses can (like Original Moses) come out of Egypt to the Promised Land. I know that the Jesus Scholars aren't buying this as history. Fair enough.

Even so, it is the story we get and it conveys truth whether or not it happened that way. On this second day of our journey with Matthew, we are invited to consider Jesus and his family as foreigners who were a long way from home, and who did not know the language or customs of Egypt. And perhaps to ponder the mark that may have left on them. And then, if we dare, to reflect on the immigrant/stranger in our own society, those with papers and those without them - in whom we are invited to see the face of Jesus. As we will read later in this gospel (see chapter 25) - we see Jesus in the face of the hungry, and the thirsty, and the one who is a stranger or naked or in prison.

Last week I listened to the story of a young Mexican woman who came to this country with her mother and sister when she was ten years old. She came without paperwork because her mother fled from an abusive husband. Eventually she graduated from the University of Texas, and she is now a citizen of this country. But that journey took a lot of work, and hardship, and many tears - and the Dream Act. Perhaps the most powerful thing she said to us was that people who knew her supported her even as they very often opposed immigration reform because they said, "you are different from the rest of them." But she insisted, "no, I'm not...we all have stories, and our stories are more similar than different." It was a powerful witness and I don't think a person in the room didn't feel the presence of God.

May we dare to see Christ in the face of the stranger - the one whose parents took him to a foreign land to save his life.

Click here for Day 3.

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