The Queer Holy Family and the Return from Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15,19-23)

The Sunday after Christmas is traditionally celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Family – an occasion which all too often is used in homilies as an excuse to commend the modern nuclear family – thereby leaving the substantial proportion of Catholics who are single, divorced, married but childless, gay, lesbian, trans or otherwise queer distinctly excluded. How are LGBT people of faith to respond to this, how can we truly participate in a great feast which so leaves us excluded?

I have reflected on this twice before. The first time, in “Christ’s Queer Family”, I noted that the Biblical Holy Family was not, as it is usually presented, an example of the “traditional” family beloved of the Christian right, but in fact has much more in common with queer families.

holy-family-with-st-john-the-baptist-297x3001

There is a phrase that has been doing the rounds in gay Christian circles for a while now: “Jesus had two dads, and he turned out just fine.” Is there any scriptural basis for this? Yes, of course there is. It is right there in Matthew chapter 1. Joseph’s role in Jesus life was so important that his lineage was traced through Joseph, not Mary. Joseph wasn’t merely some human caretaker, he was Jesus’ human father. At the same time, God was Jesus’ father in a much more literal sense than he is our father, so there is no doubt that, for mainstream Christians at least, Jesus did have two dads.

Faith and Pride

Later, with the escalating opposition by Pope Benedict and some Catholic bishops to marriage equality in civil law, I noted also the parallels with the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, to escape persecution.

Flight to Egypt, Durer
Flight to Egypt, Durer

For many of us, discrimination and prejudice remain real, especially in church – but are not usually so sever that we need to flee our homes, as Mary Joseph and Jesus did. For some queer people though, especially in Africa and the Middle East, there is indeed the need to leave their own countries to escape criminal sanctions of imprisonment or even death. For others, even in more tolerant societies, there may be a need to leave their homes to escape hostility from family and neighbours. Many LGBT make a metaphorical flight from persecution, abandoning their spiritual homes in the Churches, to escape prejudice and exclusion masquerading as Christian  practice.

Rereading and reflecting again on the text, I was struck by a more optimistic and joyful interpretation: after the flight into Egypt – came a return!

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

I called my son out of Egypt.
After Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you and go back to the land of Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, went back to the land of Israel. But when he learnt that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he left for the region of Galilee. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled:
‘He will be called a Nazarene.’

It’s been a remarkable year for queer families, for lgbt people of faith, and for gay Catholics in particular. Evidence that we are experiencing a Kairos moment for full lgbt inclusion is everywhere. Legislation and court decisions between them have dramatically advanced the progress to full marriage and family equality. Many church groups have worked actively to achieve these gains, and welcomed them with they were realized. Some churches have provided for same – sex weddings in church, and others for church blessings of civil unions, others have admitted openly gay, lesbian and trans people to ministry, and even to leadership positions as bishops, moderators and elders. Just as Joseph was eventually able to lead his family out of Egypt and back to the land of their birth, so many queer families too, are finding it possible to return from their own places of exile, to full inclusion in society, and even in church.

 

 

 

 

 

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