The Gospel this Sunday (New Year)
Matthew 2:13-23 New International Version (NIV)
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[a] 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”[b] 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
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This portion of the gospel is like a plot of an exciting spy novel where the main characters had to flee, hide and bide their time to ensure the safety of those whom they love and the fulfillment of God’s will.
Matthew 2:13-23 teaches us about the true nature fear, why we should open ourselves to it and why we should not fight or shun it. At the same time, the gospel writer, in this instance, have clearly illustrated that as human beings we are bound by time and that there is time for everything, including the seasons. That is why I sometimes enjoy quoting former Philippine President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada’s “weder-weder lang” statement most especially in describing the unpredictable turn of events in a person or a community’s life.
Fear, contrary to popular belief, has a redeeming quality for it actually tempers our rashness. Fear acts like a brake or a system of moderation to our recklessness thus, in a way, it keeps order and civility in society. Fear makes us considerate of others and more introspective. It makes us more careful in our decisions and actions. This is why I am unusually alert when dealing with people who are “fearless” because either they obviously don’t know God or they are crazy if not a fool. I am afraid they might do something reckless and dangerous. Mind you, courage is not the absence of fear. In fact fear was instilled on us by God so we may know him and our limitations. Theologically, what is required of us is not to become fearless but to have that ability and power to conquer fear by trusting the lord (Deutronomy 31:6-8, Ephesians 6:10, Psalm 27:1 ).
Imagine what would have happened had Joseph decided to be fearless and ignored the warning of the Lord’s angel in his dream. We are lucky because after receiving the warning, Joseph became afraid and “…he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.” He did not even took anything or even waited for dawn. In short, Joseph and his family hurriedly left for the safety of Egypt. Despite being afraid, Joseph remained decisive and acted accordingly. That is the grace of courage which definitely is not the absence of fear. It was his faith (hence the angelic warning) and not the absence of fear that made him courageous. Had he been fearless, he would have most likely stayed and he and his family would be killed.
The Gospel writer, in this instance, also wants us to realize that everything is bound by time and that all things have “its own time,” even the time for running or escaping. In fact, time is so essential to our existence that even God, timeless as our creator is, allowed his being to be bound by time in his incarnated form as clearly demonstrated by his life and passion on the cross, including his suspenseful participation in Joseph and Mary’s escape to Egypt.
Time, I should say, is also a firm reminder to us of our ephemeral nature and God’s timelessness. I am sure that those who thought somethings never end and subsequently abuse their power over others belatedly realize their temporariness as the “weder-weder lang” phenomenon slowly subject them to reality. Avoid that misery by accepting now that only God is timeless and therefore we must live our lives responsibly and meaningfully. This Gospel of Mathew, I must stress, could be rightfully interpreted to mean that we should always give time to all that matters, most especially God and humanity’s well being. We should remember that aside from God and humanity, everything else is trivial.