December 29, 2013
Holy Family, Sunday in the Octave of Christmas, Cycle A
Matthew 2:13–15, 19-23
The gospel continues the story of the wise men from the east, who under divine guidance came to Bethlehem to pay homage to the child Jesus. After their departure, again under divine guidance, Joseph is warned to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod plans to kill the child. The family will remain in this land of refuge until the Lord calls his son out of Egypt just as the people of Israel were once called out.
After returning to Israel, Joseph settles his family in Nazareth in Galilee because he fears Herod’s son Archelaus. Matthew comments that all these things are not by chance, but in fulfillment of divine providence, here realizing obscure prophecies that the future messiah would be called a Nazorean.
Matthew composed the first two chapters of his gospel as a theological prologue to the themes he would develop to explain the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The meaning of the prologue as a whole is to guide the interpretation of this Sunday’s concluding section about the magi.
Matthew affirms that divine providence was active, often in surprising ways, throughout the long history which preceded the journey of the magi and the flight into Egypt. Thus he makes a point of including in his genealogy the “irregularities” of four women: Tamar (Gen 38), Rahab (Josh 2), Ruth (Ruth 3), and Bathsheba (2 Sam 11). Jesus is surely from earth, son of David. Just as surely, Jesus is from heaven, Son of God conceived in his mother’s womb through the Holy Spirit.
How can this gospel be good news for us today? The unredeemed situation it addresses is as much our own as it was in for the people in Matthew’s time, or for the people named in Matthew’s prologue. We experience the situation when life doesn’t seem to make sense, when an accident, a betrayal, a failure, a death seems to destroy meaning. And it is usually in such a circumstance that we happen upon an article asserting that science “proves’ that existence has no meaning, or that meaning is no more than a subjective human construction. Often we experience a serious trial of faith.
The gospel today, even if we should be close to despair, proclaims the good news: God is with us. Every moment, every event of history, even its evil dimension, is somehow transformed by God’s powerful and loving care to become a part of the divine plan.
The gospel for this Sunday’s liturgy invites us to accept a gift of the same Holy Spirit which enabled Joseph and Mary to trust in God’s providence and to play a role in the mysterious working out of that providence in history. It is that gift of unconditional trust in divine providence that makes our lives meaningful and full of hope even in the midst of tribulation and confusion. In this trust we can bless the Lord at all times, even when we do not understand. And we can live in the peace of Christ that is beyond understanding.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.