Bill Flippin Jr.: Matthew 2:13-23: Significance of Jesus' early years

Threat to the life of a child intended for some important destiny is a common enough feature of ancient narratives. In the book of Exodus a familiar story of destiny is found in the threat to life of the infant Moses. Even within Imperial narratives Caesar Augustus as found in Suetonius, Aug. 94.3) threat was even before he was born in his mother's womb. A child that has endured hard circumstances early is deemed marked because their life has been spared for a special purpose.

The massacre of the infants often speaks of the life and significance of Jesus Christ as even the second Moses in liberating God's people. However, the gospel writer speaks much deeper to the social ethos of the slaughtering directing by that despot King Herod. Just as the prophet Jeremiah laments on the Northern Exile (722/1 B.C.) at the time of the Southern Exile (587/6 B.C.) so does this passage recognize the slaughter of the innocent. Matthew recognizes the social impact of the slain children of Bethlehem and their grieving mothers as related to those who are being displaced, detached and away from familial settings. Just as the weeping prophet affirms in Je 31:15 'your children shall come back to their own country' with the image of a mother grieving the loss of a dependent child.

The theme of mourning is in mind with a voice being found in Ramah. There is a tradition that Rachel was buried near Bethlehem as mother of the nation weeps for her descendants although her older sister Leah gave birth to more tribes than Rachel. Rachel is said to have been buried on the way to Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19-20), and more explicitly near the border of Benjamin (1 Sam. 10:2), which would have been very close to Ramah. Thus it was natural to personify the grieving mothers in Israel as "Rachel weeping for her children." That Rachel's children, along with the other sons of Jacob, also had to leave the promised-land (Gen. 42-50) correlates to the theme exile from one's homeland. Rachel's weeping serves as a symbol of sympathy to theocracy in general that devalues human life politically for the sake of genocide and keeping the status quo threatened by particularly male children.

We cannot discount the need to wail for all lives matter but did Matthew follow ancient literature of the displacement of Jesus to show the significance of his purpose? If so why would he have Jesus live in the insignificant town of Nazareth? Or was the flight to Egypt a reference to a new Moses, liberator for Israel or in preparation for the wilderness found in Matthew chapter 4.

Perhaps the lesson in the wailing is that Jesus our lord and Savior was a refugee living in an insignificant town of Nazareth even after his displacement is interpreted incorrectly.Ver. 23: Ὅτι Ναζωραá¿–ος κληθήσεται· He shall be called a Nazarene.] Those things which are brought from Isa. 11:1 concerning נֵצֶר Netzer, the Branch; and those things also produced concerning Samson the Nazarite, a most noble type of Christ, have their weight, by no means to be despised. And that by the word Ναζωραá¿–ος, shows his separation and estrangement from other men, as a despicable person, and unworthy of the society of men. In other words just as other words are mistranslated that the separation of Jesus as Nazarene continued throughout his life.

The early years of Jesus are significant in Matthew's gospel in bringing legitimacy to his life and purpose. In the light and darkness of Epiphany, we are called to be spiritual and political activists, to perpetuate the true revelation that Jesus is the Light of the world - the light that not only illuminates but also reveals and uncovers those things "done in the dark." As we proclaim in the Nicene Creed, we confess Christ as "Light of Light, True God of True God."