Reflecting on Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Something very interesting is hidden inside that gospel story today of the return the Holy Family to “the land of Israel”. We are more familiar with Luke’s Christmas stories, bracketed by the census that took them to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in a cave because “there was no room for them in the inn”, and their return back home to Nazareth.
But a close reading of the first two chapters of Matthew’s gospel betrays a significant difference in the two accounts. Here, there is no journey down to Bethlehem at all. Joseph lives there, and has taken Mary into his home. When the Magi find them, the Star is hovering over the “house” where they live. They flee from Herod into Egypt, and when they return they intend to settle back in Bethlehem. It’s only because they are afraid of Archelaus that they travel north into the Galilee. They choose to settle in a tiny village called Nazareth.
But there is no mention of this village anywhere in the Old Testament. The word “Nazareth”, or “nazar”, means “consecrated” or “separated”. Might it be that the Jews who settled there in the decades before the birth of Jesus purposely named the town “Nazareth” because they believed that the Messiah would come from their ranks, that they were consecrated and separate from the others? Consequently, might Mary and Joseph have chosen that village because they knew that, indeed, they carried the Messiah in their arms?
Luke and Matthew have different memories of when the Holy Family reached Nazareth, but the theology is the same: the Long Awaited One is here.
What family stories seem to “conflict” at your Christmas table?