An alternative narration of the Christmas story of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt which shines a spotlight on modern day vulnerability and fleeing persecution…
After the Angel Gabriel appeared to Joseph instructing him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt, warning him that King Herod intended to kill his newly born baby. He knew he had to leave, and leave immediately. No time for goodbyes, no time to inquire about language courses or job offers or how the points system works in Egypt.
It had not been that long since Mary had given birth to baby Jesus. Recovery from a birth in a stinky damp stable in a foreign town had been tough but having to suddenly move to a new country took it to an altogether different level. But they had to flee for Jesus’s sake.
In the middle of the night Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus began the long arduous, gruelling journey from Bethlehem to Egypt. This was a harsh journey through the desert to an unknown land where they had no relatives nor friends nor contacts of any kind.
Once they arrived at the ancient Egyptian town of Farama, they decided to take some rest before continuing their journey. Exhausted, they fell into deep sleep.
Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus found themselves in front of some imposing columns close enough to each other that only one person at a time could pass through.
Standing in the way of passage was an Egyptian guard. They joined the long queue of exhausted travellers awaiting entry. Mary almost passed out from exhaustion but if they left the queue, they would lose their turn and although the child Jesus was very hungry, Joseph simply could not leave them in search of food, it was too dangerous and they were on their own.
Eventually they reached the guard. And the interrogation began:
“Where are you from?”
“Bethlehem, the land of Judea”
“What brings you to Egypt?”
“We have fled persecution, our son’s life is in danger. King Herod is after him”
“Do you have evidence that King Herod is after him personally? Any accounts from experts, any physical evidence, perhaps of assault?”
“Why should we believe you? What if you are just here to take advantage of the bounty of our land… Maybe even looking to get a free education for your boy in Alexandria, taking the place of one of our own bright Egyptian boys.”
“Sir, my family and I just want a safe place to raise our boy, we are not here to take the place of any Egyptian and we will be going back home someday”
“Ok, well here’s the problem. While we have evidence that Herod is a ruthless ruler, you have not provided us with any authoritative evidence that your boy Jesus is being personally targeted so there are no grounds to grant you asylum. Your application is rejected”
“Please, we are desperate”
“Let us see if you qualify under the point system. What do you do for a living?
“I am a skilled carpenter”
“That’s no good, we have the best carpenters in the world, we don’t need any more carpenters, there is no market demand here in Egypt for Judean carpenters. Do you speak Coptic?”
“No sir, but we are quick learners and we speak Greek”
“You haven’t scored enough points to qualify on the workpoint system. Ok let us try getting you through the business route, how much silver do you have that you can invest in this country to establish a business – and remember it must be a business with an innovative idea?”
“None, we don’t have much but we are very hard workers and we will do anything to earn our bread. We had to flee for the sake of our son’s life”
“Go back to where you came from, you are not welcome here. We simply cannot let in everyone who says they and their family are fleeing this or that, hard-working or not”
“But an angel spoke to me and said that I should flee to the land of Egypt until it is safe to go back home”
“Look angel or no angel, strangers are just not welcome here”
And at that point, Mary woke Joseph up. He was shaking and she assured him that this was just a bad dream.
And Joseph, Mary andJesus walked into Egypt, travelling right down along the river Nile. And wherever they went, they were welcomed and when they thanked the Egyptians for their hospitality. The Egyptians always replied “No need to thank us, every one of us can be a stranger outside their country at any point in their lives. A society that does not welcome strangers is one that has lost its humanity”
Professor Tadros is Director of the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID) but the views in this blog do not reflect those of the CREID programme and all disclaimers apply.