I’m not sure what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for travellers to Egypt from Judea might have been in about 4 BC; it formed the Roman province of Aegyptus then. There was an ancient highway running near the coast from Gaza to the Nile Delta, and a string of towns with Jewish populations in that lower Nile region. Nowadays sat nav avoids that route and it seems one that you would only take if the alternative of staying put was critically dangerous. Herod posed that real and credible threat.
“take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.
Matthew 2:13-15 (NIV)
Indeed Matthew tells us that Herod did indeed realise that threat; one can imagine that this might lie heavily on the hearts of the Magi. But Jesus had indeed avoided Herod’s trap.
When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Matthew 2:16 (NIV)
Mathew quotes from Jeremiah about a past deep sadness in Ramah, 11 miles from Bethlehem and north of Jerusalem. That had been a staging post for the Babylonian army attacking Jerusalem and through which the stream of forced exiles were likely to have passed. But the verses following on in Jeremiah bring confidence in future hope:
“Restrain your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded, ”
declares the Lord.
“They will return from the land of the enemy.
So there is hope for your descendants,”
declares the Lord.
“Your children will return to their own land.
Jeremiah 31:16-17 (NIV)
Matthew also quoted from Hosea to illustrate Jesus as the new Moses, coming from Egypt and bringing liberation and hope.
When Israel was a child, I loved him
and called him out of Egypt as my son.
Hosea 11:1 (NIV)
Looking for hope for the future across the world today is challenging. Currently the devastating bush fires in Victoria and New South Wales are rightly receiving much attention. But the fire map in South East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa indicates an under-reported events. In the quotation below from Gus Speth, the root causes are identified as “selfishness, greed and apathy.”
I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.
The need is to follow The Golden Rule, which in Jesus’ words is:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)
It is inspiring to see the stand taken by the younger generation on the environmental crisis. An example is the manifesto drawn up by 3-generate, the children and young people’s group of The Methodist Church. The environment is one of their key topics.
Hope for the future can be partly manifest in Glasgow in November 2020 at #COP26. Then the Committee of Parties will provide their proposals to tackle the crisis. That really will be a time to “Be courageous” to tackle threats and make hope tangible.
This post is based on the second of a series of services following readings in Matthew, devised by Gareth Hill for Romsey Methodist Church.