Silence

Matt. 2:13-15,19-23

Ten years ago, I was up late with my sick dog, Kelly. I turned on the TV but left off the sound, for my family was sleeping. It was ludicrous. There I was at two a.m. watching a Dutch film in Danish while I was holding an eighty-pound Black Lab in my lap. The film story line was of a man taking care of his aging father. The father grew progressively older, more feeble, and ill. The son devoted himself to the dying man. Finally the father died and the son grieved for his father. When the film ended I wept, wiping my tears with the fur of my dog’s ears. Words did not have to be spoken for me to be moved by the basic human structure of the story. The profundity of the event, the basic, primal actions of love, nursing, loss, and grief filled me with awe. I was awed by the human condition and by a profound force, which at first flooded me with a chaos of emotions, then with a gaggle of existential ethical paradoxes, and finally with a sense of that creative love that is at the core of existence. I had taken care of my own father years previous. It had been an intense period in my life, a detour of caring for one’s own, a silent hiatus interrupts. It taught me to listen closely to “the sounds of silence.”

Many of us who are caught in the “sandwich generation,” have to deal with both our children and our elderly parents. It is often an unexpected detour, a silent time, in the tale of our pilgrimage. So it was for Joseph in Matthew’s Gospel. Following the departure of the magi, he fled to Egypt in order to care for his family. Our gospels are silent on what happened there. The bits and pieces that are found in Gnostic gospels and other haigiographa are not very helpful. The silence of the gospels is eloquent. In many ways that silence is helpful in that it causes us to focus our attention upon Jesus’ ministry and Passion.

The silent episode in Egypt echoes the exile of the Hebrews, the rise of Moses, and the return of his people. Perhaps the Gospels are wise in allowing echoes and allusions to carry the weight of the parallel between Jesus’ life and that of His people.

In our own spiritual journeys, do we not often gain when we are forced to turn from our chosen paths in order to assume profound, and yet often mundane, responsibilities? Hopefully we learn to value the nuances of our relationships and of life.

Knowing that Joseph also had to manfully shoulder the unexpected responsibility of supporting his family and rearing his child in a foreign environment helps us to realize that we follow a divine detour that shaped God’s revelation and our relationship to God. Certainly Joseph fulfilled the role of the “good shepherd” even before Jesus taught about it. It is a quiet, even silent role, for you and me sometimes. It is a good role. I cannot help but wonder, as Joseph took his family to Egypt, did he have with him the equivalent of a black Lab? Amen.