The Return to Nazareth (Luke 2:39, 40)

The Return to Nazareth

39 When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.n 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.o


As we read more and more, and become further acquainted with scripture we will see that there is a lot of parallelism between the Gospel accounts given by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  In fact, there is so much similarity that any divergence in the stories can sometimes be conspicuous.  This is one of those times.

Although we haven’t worked our way through the Gospel according to Matthew yet, I think that a quick inspection of the difference between Luke and Matthew can be very illuminating and give us a greater spiritual insight into these few brief lines that we have today from Luke.

After the presentation in the Temple, Luke tells us that the Holy Family returned home to Galilee.  However, in the Gospel according to Matthew we read that after the Nativity the Holy Family escapes King Herod’s murderous plot by going to Egypt instead of going home to Galilee.  Moreover, Matthew says nothing about the presentation in the temple.


Matthew, Chapter 2

13* When they [the magi, known as the three wise men] had departed [from the Nativity in Bethlehem], behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,* and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” 14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. 15* He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophetd might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.


So what’s going on?  Luke says they went to Galilee and Matthew says they went to Egypt.  Is this another one of those places in scripture that makes us ask “if the Bible contradicts itself on this account, how can we trust it about anything?”

Well for one thing, if we were to do a detailed study of these scriptures (don’t worry, I’m not going to do that here) then we would see that there is certainly enough time in Matthew’s account for the Holy Family to have gone to Jerusalem and present Jesus in the temple.  However, Matthew didn’t write about it.  Similarly, if Luke had added four little words “by way of Egypt” when telling us that the Holy Family had returned home, then we wouldn’t sense any disagreement between Luke and Matthew.

But Luke didn’t write those four little Words; and no one has the authority to add them.  This begs the question, if they went to Egypt before going to Galilee, then why didn’t Luke include it in his account of the Gospel?

Once again, we have to remind ourselves of the Gospel writer’s intention and we have to look even further, we have to look at who the Gospel writer’s audience is.  Scripture scholars agree, Matthew is writing to a Jewish community and Luke is writing to non-Jews, that is gentiles, or Greeks.  The Jewish community that Matthew writes for already knows what a Messiah is and they are expecting his arrival.  Matthew writes to say that this child, Jesus, is the long-awaited Messiah and he also writes to instruct the Jewish community in the ways of Christianity.  Luke’s task isn’t too different, but he writes so that Theophilus (friend, or lover, of God) may realize the certainty of the teachings he has received (Lk 1:3, 4).  Teachings that not only introduce the concept and person of the Messiah but also instruct about Christianity.

In writing to the Jewish community, Matthew’s account of Herod’s treachery is a reminder of the world’s hostility against God’s plans of peace for Israel (and mankind).  Matthew also reminds his readers how, through divine intervention, God preserves and protects his Chosen.  Furthermore, this will be a reminder to the Jews, that like the Israelites themselves, Jesus is delivered from Egypt into the Promised Land; it is a reminder of their own Exodus.  Finally, knowing the Jewish law requiring presentation in the temple and the circumcision, this community would have assumed that the righteous Mary and Joseph would fulfill their obligation under the law; Matthew doesn’t “need” to write about it.

Luke, on the other hand, has focused on the humanity of Christ.  Luke gives no attention to King Herod’s inhumanity.  His readers haven’t grown up with the tradition of persecution that the Jews have experienced for the past centuries.  Nor is it part of their tradition to have been formed as a people in the Exodus.  You see, by adding four little words, “by way of Egypt”, Luke would have introduced a distracting, and potentially confusing, element to his account of the Gospel.  These four little missing words, “by way of Egypt” would have drawn the focus away from the mystery of God assuming a human nature and then, by covenant, being incorporated into His people.

In our prayerful reflection today let’s focus deeply on the mystery of the humanity of Christ.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


  1. Ed February 17, 2016 Reply
  2. Mike Hanson May 29, 2016 Reply

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