The Holy Innocents, a parable for today


Scripture: Matthew 2: 13-16; 19-23a

The Holy Innocents is Matthew’s account of the murder of baby boys by King Herod, and the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt as refuges. It is a parable for our own time.

Season of Epiphany

The next two months are the season of Epiphany. The word means to make evident a god. As Christians, we see this season as the making known of Jesus, who he was and is, and what he stands for.

As I said last Sunday, we celebrated the day of Epiphany early in our Sunday worship this year. That allows us to celebrate Jesus’ baptism at the “proper” time, the first Sunday after the Epiphany. So this evening, we can imagine that the Magi have now visited Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. They have left again, having decided not to return to the untrustworthy King Herod.

I can’t help wondering what Joseph and Mary must have thought about those strange gifts. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. Not very practical for a struggling young family.

The Holy Innocents, a parable for today

Our Scripture tonight continues Matthew’s Epiphany story. It’s called the Holy Innocents, to remember the murder of the innocent baby boys whose misfortune was to be born around the same time as Jesus.

Today’s Scripture is a horror story that is all too familiar in our own time. King Herod deliberately eliminated a specific group of people. The Holy Family had to flee for their lives. They became refugees in Egypt. The parallel with the flight of Syrians from their homeland, as just one modern example, is all too obvious.

We don’t know where the Holy Family settled in Egypt. I would like to imagine that they went to Alexandria, where there was a large population of Jewish people who spoke Jesus’ birth language, Aramaic. Elsewhere, people spoke mainly Greek or Coptic. 

The Holy Family would have found life challenging, just like refugees to Canada, but without any government resettlement programs or welfare to help them. Fortunately, Joseph was a carpenter, so he presumably found work in Egypt. Even so, he would still have faced all the other barriers that refugees face. As a foreigner, he would be last in line for job openings.


The Holy family return home

Like most refugees, Joseph and his family sought to return home once the danger had passed, rather than settle permanently in a foreign country. Matthew tells us that they stayed in Egypt until Herod’s death, and then went to live in Nazareth.

Matthew was the most Jewish Gospel writer. He quoted the prophet Hosea: “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” Matthew interpreted these events as a prophesy from the Hebrew Scriptures. For him, it confirmed that Jesus was the Messiah. A New Moses coming out of Egypt. Like the original Moses, who led the Israelites from Egypt at the time of the Exodus.

Likewise, the Joseph of our story, is a dreamer. He’s like Joseph, the favourite son of the patriarch Jacob in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Amen.