bible blog 1143

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news


Matthew 2:13-23

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14 Then Joseph[a] got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,[b] he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.[c] 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’



The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ 21 Then Joseph[d] got up, 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 there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

Matthew’s story makes the point that although  Jesus God’s son recapitulates the sojourn of Israel God’s son in Egypt, everything is topsy-turvy. Israel has become the place of oppression, whereas Egypt is the place of refuge. Indeed even after Herod’s death, Jesus’ family can’t return to Judaea but take up residence on the margins of Israel, in Galilee. Even in his childhood Jesus is associated with the marginalised of Israel and with foreigners. The true Messiah is from the outset not limited to Israel, which has become a place of violence. The theme of violent power is never far from the gospels, which are completely realistic about  power: it is frequently used for evil although there are decent people who use it for order and the protection of the innocent. The basic political assumption of the gospels is that the rule of those who recognise no restraint is a danger that afflicts most people most of the time. Into such a world Jesus brings vulnerability, courage and trust in God.

Philippians 2:12-30

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

God is himself at work within you

12-13 So then, my dearest friends, as you have always followed my advice—and that not only when I was present to give it—so now that I am far away be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility. For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose.

14-18 Do all you have to do without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be God’s children, blameless, sincere and wholesome, living in a warped and diseased world, and shining there like lights in a dark place. For you hold in your hands the very word of life. Thus can you give me something to be proud of in the day of Christ, for I shall know then that I did not spend my energy in vain. Yes, and if it should happen that my life-blood is, so to speak, poured out upon the sacrifice and offering which your faith means to God, then I can still be very happy, and I can share my happiness with you all. I should like to feel that you could be glad about this too, and could share with me the happiness I speak of.

I am sending Epaphroditus with the letter, and Timothy later

19-24 But I hope in Jesus Christ that it will not be long before I can send Timothy to you, and then I shall be cheered by a first-hand account of you and your doings. I have nobody else with a genuine interest in your well-being. All the others seem to be wrapped up in their own affairs and do not really care for the business of Jesus Christ. But you know how Timothy has proved his worth, working with me for the Gospel like a son with his father. I hope to send him to you as soon as I can tell how things will work out for me, but God gives me some hope that it will not be long before I am able to come myself as well.

25-30 I have considered it desirable, however, to send you Epaphroditus. He has been to me brother, fellow-worker and comrade-in-arms, as well as being the messenger you sent to see to my wants. He has been home-sick for you, and was worried because he knew that you had heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, very dangerously ill, but God had mercy on him—and incidentally on me as well, so that I did not have the sorrow of losing him to add to my sufferings. I am particularly anxious, therefore, to send him to you so that when you see him again you may be glad, and to know of your joy will lighten my own sorrows. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy! You should hold men like him in highest honour, for his loyalty to Christ brought him very near death—he risked his life to do for me in person what distance prevented you all from doing.

St. Paul

St. Paul

Paul also recognises the danger of worldly powers. Writing from his base in Ephesus to the believers in Philippi, he acknowledges the risks he takes as a missionary, including the possibility that he will be killed. His calm acceptance of this possibility can’t be viewed as grandstanding, since his actions, especially his extraordinary journeys in unknown territory bear out his words. Nor can he be viewed as an hysterical seeker of martyrdom. He enjoys his mission, he loves the people of the gentile churches, he remains focused and realistic.  

The Philippian church had sent him financial support by the hand of one their number, a man called Epaphroditus, who had offered to become Paul’s personal assistant. As Paul already had assistance, he turned down this offer with gratitude. But it swiftly became evident that Epaphroditus was seriously ill. The people of the Ephesian church looked after him until he recovered. This mutual love and practical care amongst people divided by race, culture and geography would be unusual even today; then it was revolutionary. The young Christian churches had all the internationalist elan of Rome, but with practical goodness instead of  violence, and equality instead of rigid hierarchy. This new community life proved stronger than the empire in which it was born. The same patient witness might be a valuable contribution to the uneasy world order today.

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