Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Some of you will be quick to question the title shown for the artwork above. What we’ve printed here is a cut from a watercolor painting given to Cindy and me when we left Clarkesville. It remains one of my favorite paintings and gifts from a parishioner. Most of how we relate to Jesus as a baby with Mary and Joseph AND Egypt is to tell the story by their going there, not their coming back. The most often used title for these depictions is “Flight to Egypt.”
Here’s the thing, in most of the visual pieces depicting this scene unless you know geography and astronomy well it is nearly impossible to tell which way they are going. Following that, it is also nearly impossible to understand all that is going on in Matthew’s gospel and Joseph’s dreaming without including that they didn't stay in Egypt.
Very soon we will be hearing of the Magi and their travels and in that will be told of their return trip, too. They go “home by another way” so that they don’t have to encounter Herod again. Jesus, Mary and Joseph go TO Egypt for pretty much the same reason. But the holy family can’t stay there. What the prophet Hosea said eight centuries before was understood as meaningful. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” And so they return and find a home in Nazareth.
There are lots of ways to go from this lesson. We could talk about “comfort zones” and risk-taking. We could talk about fear. We could talk about hope and expectation or about how marvelously God does what God does. Some might want to focus on the value of dreaming. Lots of ways to talk. Pick any one of these and you still have to talk about going somewhere next and doing something else.
Going or doing and not just waiting for an end to Herod’s despotism. The life and ministry and miracles and multiplications of food and healings and teaching and politics and sacrifice and resurrection of that baby carried in Mary’s arms on the back of that donkey all the way to Egypt and back are the going and doing next. No matter what, the return from Egypt and what happens afterwards is what made the flight to Egypt meaningful, even necessary.
The point of calling the return an escape is to note that we are prone to think and often in a false humility that God only wants us safe, only wants us happy, only wants us to be fulfilled. Sure God wants us safe, happy and fulfilled. God wants that for the whole world. In order for that to come true though, we have to leave. Based on our comforts and confidence our leaving may have to be more like an escape in order to do what God wants next.
My own version of this has been at time to act like being a priest is the fulfillment of God’s call in my life. And then thinking that as long as I keep my nose clean and am engaging, polite and pastoral I am doing what I am supposed to do. But sometimes, maybe all the time my answering God’s call is meant to be more like Nazareth than Egypt, more like Bethany and Capernaum and Cana and Galilee and on and on. Lots of ways. Lots of ways. Sometimes we must escape Egypt.