HOW MATTHEW 2:13-23 MIGHT HAVE TURNED OUT

He woke up with a start yet again, sweat dampening his hair and rolling slowly down between his nightshirt and his back.  This was at least the second time that his sleep had been born, was interrupted by the voice. As it was, he hadn’t had a full night’s sleep since the child had been born. The first time the voice spoke, it assured him that his betrothed had indeed been telling the truth when she claimed that she had not had relations with another man. Rather, her being pregnant was some kind of mystery, she had said, the being in her womb conceived by the Holy Spirit. “Do not be afraid to take her as your wife,” the voice in the dream had instructed him.

‘For the last time, the conception was immaculate! You don’t hear me asking where you were that night!’

Now, this night the voice reverberated into his dream once again. “Get up, Joseph, and take the child and the mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I give the next directive. For King Herod’s jealousy and thirst for blood are getting the better of him and putting all the children of Bethlehem in mortal danger.”

Joseph had trusted the voice after the first dream and learned to trust his bride. So, he did as instructed: gathered up a few things for an overland trip over rock and sand to Egypt; told his wife to pack lightly but grab enough diapers for the baby; lifted her and the child she was holding onto the back of a donkey; and set out before daybreak in a southwesterly direction, being sure to steer clear of Jerusalem.

 

The days under a cloudless sky were blistering hot, and the nights were cold. One anxious day after another; one arduous mile after the one before it. Gaza and Sinai were completely unexplored territory for them.

Did the voice really say, Egypt? Joseph’s people had found refuge there before, and relief from their famine. But wasn’t Egypt the place from where God delivered them under Moses and shaped the bickering slave tribes into one people in the first place? Wasn’t Egypt a place from which to escape?

 

Joseph’s heart beat faster as the green of the Nile delta came into his view on the horizon, a fresh, luscious shade of green he had never beheld before.

The closer they approached Egypt, the question preoccupying him became more urgent. How would the border patrol designated to protect the integrity of Egypt’s borders treat him, his wife and their little child? Would they be allowed to enter Egypt?

At the station by the stone wall that marked the frontier of the formerly great empire of the dynasties, however, the border patrol agents were not Egyptians at all. Rather, they were decked out in what looked like Roman uniforms, just like those of their oppressors back in Judea. Joseph’s heart sank and his hope evaporated, though he hoped that Mary couldn’t see the despondent look on his face in the dark.

“Well, lookee here,” a gruff-looking soldier said to his partner. “Looks like another harried Jew doesn’t it, Quintus? And a Jewess far too young, not to mention too beautiful, for this old geezer, wouldn’t you say? And to add to it all, a child, an eighteen-month-old, wouldn’t you say, or maybe a two-year-old? Too small a baby for this dried up old Jew to be the father.”

“It seems they’re just more of the poor wretches unable to feed themselves in Herod’s province, coming here expecting handouts from Gaius Turranius. If this keeps up, the country will be overrun with these undesirables.”

“I’d say, let the old man through. The Hebs used to be good brickmakers once. But keep the broad here for a while. I’d like to inspect her a little more closely, if you catch my drift,” he said with a malevolent chuckle. “And take the baby to the tender-age tent.”

Looking at the befuddled Joseph, Quintus asked if he understood what his partner had just said. Joseph didn’t speak a word of Latin, though he’d learned the few words and phrases of Greek that he needed to get commissions for carpentry work from the nobility back in Judea.

“No understand,” he answered Quintus in the most elemental Greek.

Quintus had learned a modicum of Aramaic when he was posted in northeastern Syria province. He explained to Joseph that he was free to proceed into Egypt, but that his wife would be delayed indefinitely, and the child would be taken care of according to the highest childcare standards of the Roman Empire. “If not better than most Egyptian children, in fact.”

Joseph motioned immediately to his wife to take the baby back into her arms and mount the donkey again. He took the reins of the animal and led it back in an easterly direction, back towards Judea, to the delight and caustic laughter of Quintus and his gruff partner.

They wandered the Sinai wilderness. It was forty days before the voice visited Joseph again in a dream. “That mighty tyrant Herod is dead. Return to your people…but not to Bethlehem, for his equally criminal son Archelaus rules over Judea now. Go instead back to Nazareth in Galilee where I first spoke to you in a dream.”

Postscript: I almost didn’t post this at all. I wrote it on the morning of June 20. Then I learned later in the day that President Trump had signed an executive order that would end the practice of separating children, and even babies, from their parents who have entered the United States without proper documentation. That, of course, is good news, especially since only last week, he had said that he did not authority to stop the practice by executive order. It seems someone gave him a civics lesson in the meantime.

Interestingly, however, he didn’t mention an end date for the inhumane current practice. There’s also still the Gordian knot of how to reunite the over 2,400 children who have been taken to facilities separate from their detained parents. Some parents have already been deported while their children remain in the United States.

Besides, though the actual letter of the policy is changed by Trump’s executive order, the nasty spirit of the current administration’s “zero tolerance” treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers remains in place.

I don’t pretend to know the ultimate answer to the matter of millions seeking refuge in the United States (and Canada, too). But, I wonder if there’s a third path that travels somewhere between “zero tolerance” and “open door”. One thing I do know, however, is if we were to continue to treat so heartlessly the “least” of God’s little ones from places like Mexico, El Salvador, or Guatemala, we will be doing the same to Christ himself (Matthew 25:45)

Until the Spirit moves to inspire me to a new post, live this day and the next to their fullest.”                                                        JAS