This is the time of year when we come across tiresome statements about the Holy Family, all in an effort to make them into some kind of political symbol, I suppose. If I could make it clear:
They were not homeless. Joseph and Mary each came from perfectly good homes in Nazareth, and they were no more homeless than I was during the time we lived in England, when I had to travel from my home in Bristol up to the American Embassy in London to register the births of my children when they were born. I’m sick of the stories that make them sound like vagrants, having to find shelter under the nearest interstate overpass. The inn was full, yes. All the inns were full. Bethlehem was packed full of people. It wasn’t out of cruelty that the innkeeper offered them the stable. It was probably done as a favor to them. Inns were notoriously seedy places, and the stable was probably a whole lot cleaner and more private. Homelessness in our society is a sad and tragic thing, caused by various circumstances. But let’s not use the Holy Family as a prop in the lobby for the homeless.
They were not illegal aliens. Joseph and Mary were obeying civil authority when they went to the city of David, because Joseph was descended from King David. They weren’t fleeing from an oppressive regime in Nazareth, and they weren’t scrounging for work in Bethlehem so they could send some denarii back to the folks in the old country. Nor was that the case when they went to Egypt. Yes, they were fleeing from a cruel ruler, but they weren’t crawling through barbed wire or hiding from border agents. They simply crossed over into Egypt because borders were immaterial. Whatever one’s opinion is about illegal immigration, Joseph and Mary don’t lend themselves as examples for any argument one way or the other. The circumstances just don’t fit.
They were not living in poverty. Ok, they weren’t rich. But they weren’t eating out of garbage cans or subsisting on food stamps, either. Joseph, as a carpenter, had a perfectly respectable trade, and his work would be much in demand, wherever he was. In fact, his occupation is described as tekton, which is more like a general contractor. Mary’s parents were respectable people. Tradition hints that Anne was descended from one of the high priests of the Temple, and Joachim was well-off enough to have a flock of sheep, indicating that Mary’s background was not one of grinding poverty, any more than was Joseph’s.
The Holy Family is just that: the Holy Family. Their place in history is unique. But every year we’re treated to shallow words by politicians and media hacks who think they’re expressing deep thoughts, using the Holy Family to make some point or other about social ills. These usually are the very people who are horrified by the mention of religion at any other time of the year. Ignore them.