A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 5)
Holy Family, Year A – December 26, 2004
“They Flee to Egypt”
Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 // Col 3:12-21 // Mt 2:13-15, 19-23
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
The gripping drama of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt is replicated through the ages in the lives of many distressed, persecuted families who have the grace and strength to fight for their survival. Peter Lane Taylor’s story, “The Cave Dwellers” (Reader’s Digest, January 2005, p. 134-141) narrates the torturous experience of several Jewish families in Ukraine who literally went underground in order to escape the Nazis.
The night of October 12, 1942, Zaida Stermer, his wife, Esther, and their six children dug up possessions hidden behind their house, loaded wagons with food and fuel, and quietly fled into the darkness. Traveling with them were their relatives the Dodyks and other neighbors from the village of Korolowka. They were going to a cavern near Esther’s family home. There they lived for six months, until they were discovered by the Gestapo – and only narrowly escaped. For the next two months, they moved from place to place, hiding in the forests and in barns, searching for a permanent refuge. In desperation, the Stermer’s eldest son, Nissel, went to a Christian friend, Munko Lubudzin, a forester who lived in the woods near Korolowka, and asked for help. Munko told Nissel about Priest’s Grotto, a sinkhole a few miles outside of town – so called because it was located in the fields of a local priest … On May 5, 1943, the Stermers, the Dodyks, and various other relatives and friends, including Karl Kurtz – 38 in all – packed up supplies and fled to the Grotto. The oldest was a 75-year-old grandmother, and the youngest a toddler. In silence, they descended into the sinkhole one by one. It was the last time many of them would see the sky for nearly a year … And 60 years after their ordeal, I am sitting in the afternoon light in the Stermers’ living room in Montreal, as Shulim, 84, Shlomo, 74, Yetta, 78, and a niece tell me the story recounted here. Theirs was a constant battle. Many people would have simply given up. Only love of family, strict discipline and gritty determination kept them going. “When we get together now,” Shulim says, “I know the fight to survive was worth it. I am most sure when I see my grandchildren.”
The Holy Family – Joseph, Mary and the infant child Jesus – did experience the vicissitudes of human existence just like any of us. This Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mt 2:13-15, 19-23) tells of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt and their return to the land of Israel after the death of Herod. In their flight to Egypt, the Holy Family, led by Joseph the protector, relived the history of Israel’s taking refuge in a less hostile place. In the Book of Genesis, we read the story of how Jacob left Canaan and, with his entire tribe, went to live in Egypt where his beloved son, Joseph, was the governor. God appeared to Jacob in a dream, assuring him: “Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I myself will go down to Egypt with you. I myself will bring you back again” (Gen 46:3-4). According to the authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 1: “The history of the new people of God begins with Jesus’ departure into Egypt and his return to the land of Israel. This pilgrimage is similar to the one Jacob made. Jesus is the instrument of the freedom that God initiated, hinted at by the freedom of which Moses was a protagonist.” Indeed, in the time of Jesus, Egypt was a common place of refuge for Jews. Only after the death of Herod in 4 B.C. was it safe for the Holy Family to return to Palestine.
The evangelist Matthew’s narration of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt ends with an Old Testament quotation: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1). According to the biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington: “The quotation from Hos 11:1 places this part of the Messiah’s itinerary within the framework of God’s will. It not only identifies Jesus as the Son of God, but it also suggests that he is the personification of the people of God. Just as God called Israel of old out of Egypt in order to create a special people for himself, so he calls Jesus out of Egypt into the land of Israel in order to create a new people. The principle of continuity between the old people and the new people is Jesus the Jew.” Jesus is thus the new Moses and the new Israel, coming out of Egypt. Born of Mary and with Joseph as guardian, the child Jesus was to deliver humankind from the exile of sin and death – by becoming sin on our behalf and dying so that we might live. The saving hand of God is at work in the rescue of the Holy Family from continual exile in a foreign land and in the liberating mission of the Messiah. According to Aelred Rosser, “the ultimate biblical symbol of deliverance is rescue from exile.” In this beautiful season of Christmas, the child Jesus is being presented as the Messiah-liberator of the new People of God.
Matthew continues to narrate that when Herod had died, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, commanding him to take the child and his mother to the land of Israel. He did as he was told, but, afraid to settle in Judea on account of the cruel Archelaus, he departed for the region of Galilee. Joseph, together with his holy charges, Mary and the child Jesus, went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazorean” (Mt 2:23; cf. Is 11:1; Judg 13-16). Against the Is 11:1 backdrop, which speaks of the branch (nezer) sprouting from the root of Jesse, the child Jesus is being presented as the Messiah springing forth from the royal Davidic line. And with Judg 13-16 as the biblical horizon, Jesus is being presented as a new Samson, a consecrated person or nazir and a heroic savior figure.
Indeed, in their lives as exiles and persecuted ones, the Holy Family has experienced most intimately the difficulties, anxieties and vicissitudes of the other human families on earth. In all these, they placed themselves in a spirit of faith into the hands of Divine Providence and irrevocably commit themselves to God’s saving plan.
The biblical scholar, Eugene Maly concludes: “Matthew presents us with the ideal family unit: Joseph, the father-figure and protector, his wife Mary, and Jesus. At God’s behest Joseph leads them into exile in Egypt and again at God’s behest returns with them to the land of promise. What is important to note on this feast day is that the peace of family living does not exclude hardship and strife originating from outside the family. Matthew speaks of forces beyond the control of the Holy Family, but God’s peace remained with them. After all, Mary and Joseph had in their midst the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. If today a Christian family does not experience peace, might it not be because the Prince of Peace does not rule the heart of each member”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. When confronted with family crisis and difficulties, do we trust that the Prince of Peace is in our midst for healing and to transform our Christian family more and more into a community of love, life and grace?
B. Like St. Joseph, are we ready to respond to the faith commands: “Flee to Egypt” and “Go to the land of Israel” which providentially come to us in crisis situations?
C. Do we look up to the Holy Family as a model of Christian life and community?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
Leader: May God the almighty Father rule our hearts and our homes with his gifts of love and peace. May we respond with readiness and docility to the faith commands: “Flee to Egypt” and “Go to the land of Israel”
Leader: May Jesus, the Son of God and liberator of the new People of God, bless our lives with serenity and trust.
Leader: May the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our hearts, transform more and more every Christian family into a community of love, life and grace.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“Rise, take the child and his mother …” (Mt 2:13)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Offer special prayer for your natural family, the Church family, the great human family and the cosmic family of God’s beloved creation. Assist a poor and needy member in your natural family or parish family.
B. ACTION PLAN: To celebrate the gift of the Holy Family and family life and in view of a more meaningful celebration of the Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 5): a weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323