Feast of the Holy Family (December 29 2013)
Notes on the Gospel
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." Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. 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."
When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 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. 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. 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." (Matthew 2:13-15 & 19-23)
We have, for the most part, lost the art of storytelling in the Western world. The rationalism that dominates the modern Western mind, demands proof of
any and every truth claim, whether that be empirical proof or mathematical/philosophical proof. If the truth to be communicated cannot be accommodated by the rational ideology, then the truth is deemed to be not true. It is then ignored or mocked or relegated to the realm of the superstitious or simply the irrelevant.
Myth, story, poetry, dance, song, ritual and symbol, those effective and profound ways we human beings have, over the centuries, communicated truths that cannot be simply spoken or factually represented, are at best interesting and at worst a distraction from anything that really matters.
As a consequence, our culture is slowly losing touch with the deeper truths. The eminent psychiatrist, Rollo May (1909-1994), wrote of this nearly forty years ago:
"We forget at our peril that man is a symbol-making creature; and if the symbols (or myths, which are a pattern of symbols) seem arid and
dead, they are to be mourned rather than denied. The bankruptcy of symbols should be seen for what it is, a way station on the path of despair." (Rollo May, Power and Innocence, Fontana Books, 1976, 70.)
Religion is one crucial realm of life that is severely affected by the dominance of rationalism. As we celebrate the birth of the Lord, it can be difficult to maintain our focus on what matters. In particular, we might find ourselves unable to connect with the Gospel story and, distracted by that, unable to connect with the truth of the Incarnation being told there.
Both our sanity and our faith demand that we break free of the oppression of rationalism and learn again to be storytellers.
The Incarnation is a truth of history, it is not a myth. However, there are many myths that human beings have used – more or less appropriately, more or less inappropriately – to communicate the truth of the Incarnation, a truth that is incomprehensible and ultimately incommunicable. That is precisely why we must call on myth and story and ritual and symbol to engage this truth that can utterly confuse the rational mind.
"Out of Egypt I called my son."
This statement is a reference to Hosea 11:1. It is a reference to the great truth of the Exodus Event. It is the story of God's action to liberate the people from slavery and make them his own people through an unbreakable Covenant.
Matthew tells us that Jesus is the fulfilment of this story of liberation. Matthew is telling us the foundational truth of our faith, that, in Jesus, there is a New Exodus.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, nothing is written before the Exodus, everything is written after it and in the light of it. In the Christian Scriptures, nothing is written before the New Exodus, everything is written after it and in the light of it.
Exodus is freedom! The slavery of Egypt represents all that oppresses, entraps and deprives creation of its fulfilment in Love. Central to Matthew's story here is the proclamation of freedom in and through Jesus Christ.
There is a pseudo-freedom that is no more nor less than license, an expression of self-centred individualism. This is in fact an ill-disguised form of oppression. People who follow this path became trapped and oppressed. We see this is a very sad form in the many addictions that haunt the human family.
There is however the beginnings of a real freedom to be found in political, cultural and social freedoms. People have quite rightly lived and died for such freedoms. It is a matter of great shame and a travesty of the Gospel when, throughout history, people denying others these freedoms in the name of Jesus Christ.
The freedom on offer in Jesus, however, goes much deeper than the cultural, the social and the political.
The deepest freedom is the ability to be who and what I must be. The "must" is an expression of who and what I am, one made in the image and likeness of God. Only through Jesus Christ can I become who and what I am.
Michael Whelan SM