Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family, and we hear the story, from Matthew’s Gospel, of Joseph receiving the message in a dream to take Mary and the baby Jesus and flee to Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod. It is worthwhile reflecting on what this experience would have been like for them, because such a journey, in that time period and in that part of the world, would not have been something to engage in lightly.
To make the journey in that time was not like hopping on a bus or train or airplane. The journey had to be taken on foot, with your belongings strapped to an animal. It would have taken many days to walk the distance, given the average person, carrying nothing with them, walks about 6 km per hour, and the distance between Bethlehem and Egypt is around 322 km, in a straight line. Much planing would have had to have been taken to ensure you had enough food for the journey and enough water, or plan to make stops along the way and have the money to buy what you needed there. Such a journey would normally have been taken with a caravan, because there was safety in numbers. Alone, you would have had to risk attack by wild animals, bandits and kidnappers who made their living by holding people for ransom. In short, it was dangerous.
But the Holy family would not have had the luxury of any preparation. They were fleeing persecution and had to leave immediately with what they had. They would not have had time to find out if there was a caravan making the journey and so had to risk travelling alone as refugees seeking asylum in Egypt. When they got to Egypt, they would have found themselves in a foreign country, without the language, in a different culture exposed to those who exploit the weak.
In trying to understand, what Mary and Joseph went through, we are fortunate, here in Australia, in that over the last few weeks, we have been exposed to images that can help us understand what it would have been like for Jesus’ family to go through this experience:
Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome.” When we, as an Australian society, let alone those of us who call ourselves Christians, failed to do this for some of these least of the brothers and sisters of Christ, we failed to do it for Christ himself.