The Flight to Egypt

28 December 2006: The Holy Innocents
Matthew 2, 13-18 The Flight to Egypt

Throughout history, the Jews often fled to Egypt when their life was being threatened. Many colonies of Jews were found in cities like Alexandria, the capital city of the Graeco-Roman Egypt, where millions of Jews had made permanent residency. The city of Alexandria was built by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. And therefore, when Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt because their lives --- and countless children --- were in danger from King Herod, Egypt was a logical place. They will not be strangers there, because there were Jews.

The flight to Egypt is also recorded in the Quran, Islam’s holy book. It says that Mary rests on a palm tree and heard a voice saying “Grieve not! The Lord has placed a rivulet thee, and shake the trunk of the palm tree toward thee, thou will cause ripe dates to fall upon thee. So, eat and drink and be consoled…” Tradition has it (especially in the Coptic Church) that the Holy Family stayed in Egypt for three and a half years before they returned to Nazareth.

William Barclay tells two legends about the flight to Egypt. The first story is about the penitent thief on Calvary. Legend has named him, Dismas. And legend also has it that that was the second time they met. On their way to Egypt, Mary, Joseph and Jesus were met on the road by robbers who would like to kill them and steal whatever they have. Dismas was one of the robbers, and he saw something in the baby that went to his heart. So he refused anything that would harm the baby or his parents. Then he said to the baby, “O most blessed of children, if ever there come a time for having mercy on me, then remember me, and forget not this hour.” And so Dismas indeed found forgiveness and mercy on the cross.

The second is about a spider. When the Holy Family was fleeing, they came to a cave on their way to Egypt. The cave was very, very cold that the ground was covered with hoar frost. A little spider saw the baby Jesus, and he wished so much that he could do something to keep him warm in the cold night. So the spider decided to spin a web on the entrance of the cave. A detachment of Herod’s soldiers seeking children to kill upon orders from the king came to the cave. But the captain noticed the spider’s web, covered with hoar frost and stretched towards the whole entrance. The captain said, “Look at the spider’s web. It is unbroken and there cannot possibly be someone in that cave, for anyone who enters will surely break the web.” And so the legend continues that the soldiers left the cave and the little spider spared the Holy Family that night.

As Pope Benedict XVI appealed for abused children around the world in his Christmas message, and as we remember the Holy Innocents who died that day, we remember to keep children in our prayers. The stories in legends make us remember that all the little things we do for Jesus does not pass the loving gaze of Jesus. Benedict urges us to “not forget the true gift: to give each other something of ourselves, to give each other something of our time, to open our time to God.”

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