Among the memorable meditations in Commonweal's Christmas issue, Leo O'Donovan's "Fugitives" has particular relevance to the feast we are about to celebrate. It is a theological and aesthetic reflection upon St. Matthew's narrative of the flight into Egypt -- one that is also searing in its actuality. O'Donovan writes:
Unless we appreciate the desperation of this moment in Matthews story, we cannot grasp the full import of the familys being called out of Egypt. In fact, this is the story of a new exodus: As Moses, saved from Pharaohs wrath, later led his people from persecution toward a promised land, so Jesus escapes Herod but returns as the Messiah of his peopleking in a far truer sense than Herod could ever be. Not that he returns immediately in glory: his ministry of redemption germinates for many years. When he enters upon it, he finds not only disciples but also ardent enemies who will eventually drag him to an agonizing death outside the city.
The flight into Egypt thus foreshadows the full humiliation that Jesus would experience on the Cross. And to whom can it speak more directly than to the millions upon millions of immigrants, refugees, and displaced persons in todays world?
Two fine artistic reproductions accompany the article: a painting by Fra Angelico and one by Caravaggio. But O'Donovan mentions other depictions including several by the African American artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner. Here is one: