The revisionists have been at it again; trying to cut the nasty bits from the Scripture readings in church. We have become very selective in our reading of Scripture. The lectionary prescribes verses from Jeremiah this morning, stopping a verse short of Jeremiah 31:15: Rachel weeping for her children. On Thursday, the Epiphany, the Gospel reading stops short of telling what happened when the wise men returned to their own country by another route.
Were it not for the odd Christmas card showing Mary and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to Egypt, you wouldn’t know the Holy Family were refugees. And when you look at the cards, what do you see?
There is a nice picture, a night sky and Joseph walking in front with Mary and the young Jesus riding on a donkey. The disturbing reality, that they are running away from the bloody slaughter of children by Herod’s men, gets lost in the brushwork of the artists and in our desire for a cosy festival.
Fleeing for our lives is not common in our experiences. Even the North is quieter now and the sectarian violence, driving Catholics from Protestant areas and Protestants from Catholic areas, has mostly disappeared.
The thought of running from a place, with no more than what we stand up in, is not something that would occur to us. Yet Herod’s men are alive and well, go to the borderlands of the numerous African nations and the slaughter of innocents and the sight of refugees continues.
Having been to Rwanda and Burundi, it is hard to comprehend the fear in which people lived during the genocide of the 1990s; hard to imagine how clergy got caught up in the slaughter of members of the other community; hard to imagine how the world could have looked on through the eyes of the United Nations soldiers, who stood and watched as the nightmare unfolded.
Standing on the bridge over the river at the main crossing point between the two countries on a Saturday afternoon in June 2009 was a sobering moment. Clement, my friend stood beside me, “They threw our bodies into the river here. It was filled with bodies. They said the river would carry us back to where we belonged”.
Perhaps the Christmas card of the flight into Egypt is the one nearest the truth. Leaving out verses of the Bible doesn’t change the reality of what is going on.