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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph Teach Me

 A Reflection on Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 
By: Larry T 

According to non-canonical sources Joseph was born in Bethlehem in 90 B.C. and is thought to have died in 18 A.D. Biblical scholars generally fix the year of Jesus’ birth at 6 or 7 B.C. So Joseph could have been eighty something when Jesus was born. By all accounts Joseph, a descendant of King David, was a righteous and compassionate man, a devout observer of Mosaic Law, and known to be a man of profound faith. 

Jewish maidens were considered marriageable at the age of twelve years and six months, though the actual age of the bride varied with circumstances. By most accounts Mary was fourteen at the time of her betrothal to Joseph. By mutual consent and understanding between the spouses, Mary was to be a virgin, so her pregnancy would have astonished and shocked Joseph. Since the mystery of the Incarnation hadn’t yet been revealed to him, Mary’s condition presented him with a dreadful decision. On one hand she was clearly guilty of adultery, and if he exposed her scandalous pregnancy she would have been stoned to death. On the other hand stoning was a slow torturous death; he couldn’t bear the thought of it, so he decided to divorce her quietly. But, the Lord had other plans for him.

20 Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord  appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.
21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,  because he will save his people from their sins.”
- Mt 1:20-21 N.A.B

Joseph’s fidelity to God was sorely tested by this dream. He could have easily ignored it and continued with his plan to divorce Mary quietly, but, with Abram-like faith in God, Joseph took her into his home.

Herod’s fury at the deception of the magi put Joseph’s trust and devotion to God to yet another test.

13 When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.
– Mt 2:13, 14 N.A.B.

And just as Abram before him heeded God’s call to leave his home in Haran and travel to the land of Canaan (Gen 12:4-6 N.A.B.), Joseph heeded God’s command to flee with Mary and the infant Jesus to safety in Egypt.

15 He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” - Mt 2:15 N.A.B.

The Lord had yet more directions for his obedient servant.

19 When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt
20 and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”

He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee.
23 He 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 2:19-23 N.A.B.

Mary was most likely born in Jerusalem, though some theologians insist on Bethlehem or Sephoris (about three miles north of Bethlehem). She was the daughter of Joachim and Anne. Joachim belonged to the royal family of David, and Anne was a descendant of the priestly family of Aaron. It’s for this reason that Jesus is said to have come from both a royal and priestly family.  

The childless Joachim and Anne had prayed long and hard for the gift a child, and when Mary came they presented her to the Lord in the Temple. Our Church celebrates the Presentation as a revelation of Mary’s total dedication to God’s service and obedience to His will. Some early Church Fathers wrote that Mary was three years old at the time of the Presentation and that she remained in the Temple to be educated with other children. There she also made a vow of virginity and enjoyed ecstatic visions and daily visits of the holy angels.  

Why would she consent to marry Joseph when she had made a vow of virginity? Mary must have had implicit trust in the Divine guidance that she had received, and therefore was certain that her vow would be kept even in her married state.  

Her “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” shouldn’t be a surprise considering her background.

34 But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
37 for nothing will be impossible for God.”
38 Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
– Lk 1:34-38 N.A.B.

Her virgin pregnancy was another matter. How could she explain it to Joseph? The penalty for adultery was stoning, so her life was in imminent danger. She wouldn’t be able to conceal her condition for long. If Joseph didn’t report it, her neighbors and relatives were certain to do so.  

How much trust in God did it take to sustain her through the trials of the birth of Jesus, the desperate flight to Egypt, and return to Nazareth? Can we even begin to comprehend the devotion to God it must have taken for Mary to stand at the foot of the cross, watching in silence and horror, as her son suffered the most punishing death the Romans could devise.  

The Holy Family faced untold hardships on their hasty flight to the safety of Egypt. But their combined faith and trust in God enabled them to prevail over danger and overcome unimaginable difficulties. We also know that they didn’t have much money because on the eighth day following the birth of Jesus, when Joseph and Mary went up to the Temple to present him to the Lord, their sacrificial offering was a pair of birds. This suggests that they couldn’t afford to buy an animal for the sacrifice, a sign that they were poor (Lv 12:6 N.A.B.). 

On this Sunday as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we might ask ourselves what they have to teach us. Is there a greater example of faith and trust in God for us to imitate? Do we need a better illustration of how trust in the Lord can give us the strength to overcome hardship and persevere in the face of adversity? Who can deny that God’s Holy Family was comprised of a man, a woman, and a child?

1 comment:

  1. Larry, after listening to a most banal homily on the Holy Family yesterday at mass ("the Holy Family were not perfect nor pious" .."the had found their spiritual inner core " ect, ect,) this reflection was a breath of fresh air! Thanks!!! Blessings!


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