If we read 2:13-14 in the context of Matthew's Gospel, we realize that even in his childhood the Son of Man already lacked a place to lay his head (8:20). Disciples would face the same kind of test (10:23; 24:16).
Jesus' miraculous escape here should not lead us to overlook the nature of his deliverance (compare, for example, 1 Kings 17:2-6). Jesus and his family survived, but they survived as refugees, abandoning any livelihood Joseph may have developed in Bethlehem and undoubtedly traveling lightly. Although travel within Egypt was easy for visitors with means (Casson 1974:257), many Judeans had traditionally regarded refuge in Egypt as a last resort (2 Macc 5:8-9; compare 1 Kings 11:17, 40; Jer 26:21).
Some Christians in the West act as if an easy life were their divine right, as if to imply that suffering Christians elsewhere lack faith or virtue. Yet from its very beginning the story of Jesus challenges such a premise. Of the millions of refugees and other impoverished people throughout the world (for reports, see, for example, B. Thompson 1987), some are our brothers and sisters in Christ; many others have never yet heard how much he loves them. Reports of hundreds of thousands of civilians being tortured or slaughtered each year for political, ethnic or religious reasons can inoculate us against the reality of the human pain involved, but firsthand accounts from some of my closest African friends have brought the tragedy of this plight home to me. Many could resonate with the story of Jesus the refugee who identified with their suffering. Indeed, Western Christians should not be so arrogant as to think that we could never face such affliction ourselves; in due time Christians in all nations will receive their share of hardship (see 24:9).
Like other episodes in Matthew's first narrative section (1:18-4:25), the accounts of Jesus' childhood fulfill Scripture, with at least one explicit quotation per section. But all four stories in chapter 2 also surround place names rooted in Scripture. Jesus is "forced to wander from place to place," King of a world hostile to him (Schweizer 1975:41, 45). The world's treatment of Jesus likewise promises little better for his followers (10:23-25). While Christians are right to work for change within this world, we should not be surprised when we face hostility, false accusations or even death for Jesus' name (10:17-39; 13:21; 16:24-27; 24:9-14; compare 1 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 4:12-13).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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