Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

(I John 1:5-2:2; Matthew 2:13-18)

Gospel analysts easily show that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have different sources for their accounts of Jesus’ birth. Where Matthew situates Joseph and Mary Bethlehem well before Jesus’ birth, Luke has them journeying from Nazareth. Where Matthew tells of the magi coming to adore the Lord, Luke pictures shepherds. Where Matthew writes of the Holy Family in flight to Egypt after the birth, Luke has them going up to the Temple in Jerusalem. However, these divergent details should not provoke doubt. In essential matters the two evangelists coincide.

First and very important, Jesus is born to Mary, who remains a virgin, and to Joseph, who gives him a name and a lineage. Secondly, Jesus is born in Bethlehem but comes to live in Nazareth. Finally and significantly, both narratives of his birth include a reference to the passion that Jesus will eventually endure. In today’s gospel the reference is more direct and ominous. Herod searches for the infant Jesus in order to kill him. The oblique reference to the passion in Luke comes in the midst of Simeon’s prophecy that Jesus will be the source of the rise and fall of many in Israel and because of this a sword shall pierce his mother’s heart.

The Church takes up this connection between the birth and death of Jesus by celebrating the Feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen, on the day following Christmas. In conformity to this revelation we should temper our jubilation with the realization that the mystery of the Incarnation is but the first step in Jesus’ complete sacrifice of himself to deliver us from sin and death. Also, the suffering of the innocent martyrs remembered today should remind us of the need to suffer with Jesus so that we might rise with him to glory.