LIVING IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD
Sir 3:2-6,12-14; Col 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52
The Sunday following Christmas Day is designated by the Church as the Solemnity of the Holy Family. Today’s readings lead us to reflect on the importance of the human family. It is in and through family that love is planted and nourished. The family is the first school of sharing and concern for others. No wonder then that God had wanted to enter humanity by way of the family. By doing this, he further gave dignity to the human family. Through the incarnation of the Son of God, he sanctified the human family and made it a human model of communion and solidarity. This feast is not only about the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It is also for all families in the world.
The readings today give us a hint on how to model our families on the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The 1st Reading from the Book of Sirach gives advice to children: Obedience and respect to parents is tantamount to obedience to God. Great blessings await those who obey their father and bring comfort to their mother (Sir 3:6). The 2nd Reading describes the kind of harmony that is expected to exist in a good family. Then, the Gospel narrates the story of the loss and the finding of Jesus in the temple. After a very long and tiring search for Jesus, Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the temple with the learned and high priests. Mary then told Jesus: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:48-49) Luke’s narrative continues: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” (Lk 2:51). The Holy Family has great lessons to teach our families of today.
- THE HOLY FAMILY LIVED GOOD JEWISH VALUES
The family is the basic unit of the society and so it should be the origin of change of society. We first learn Christian and moral values in the family. If we cannot find these Christian and moral values of honesty, justice, kindness, charity in our family, then, we cannot expect to find these outside. For the family is a microcosm of society. “Values are caught, not taught.” When a family lives good values, children catch them; they pick them up.
Right from the time of Jesus’ birth to the adolescent stage at which he is in the gospel of today, his parents faithfully lived the cherished values of good Jews. Joseph and Mary followed what was provided for the instruction and education of children, guiding their first steps towards a religious life as set forth in the famous “Shema Yisrael” or “Hear, O Israel”: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6:4-9).
This is at the center of Jewish religious pedagogy. We can see that the supreme teachers of children are first and foremost their parents. We are told in Luke’s gospel: “The child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was in him.” (Lk 2:40) The family had to constantly rehearse the history and events of God’s doing in the history of the people of Israel. This great harmonious relationship between child and parents is expressed as follows by Luke: “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:48-51).
- THE HOLY FAMILY IS A RELIGIOUS FAMILY
The religiosity of Joseph and Mary is quite distinct. We learn from history that Nazareth was more than 100 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Yet this family trekked on foot to attends feasts in the Temple in Jerusalem. They made no excuses. They did not need laws to compel them to serve God. They were people with deep conviction who freely gave their love to God. They did not go to the temple because it was an obligation. They worshipped God because they had a living faith and the Lord was the source of their strength.
Do our families today observe religious practices that faithfully? Very often, we see Christian families playing the minimalists, trying to do as little as possible. They are like students who study only enough to pass the test but do not think of the proficiency they will need in their future. They do not give the very best in their preparation for Sunday Mass or their practice of family prayer. The Holy Family had a ready excuse not to go to Jerusalem. The law itself exempted them because Nazareth was too far. They went anyway, because they loved God. We can easily find excuses to miss our Sunday Mass: wrong timing, bad weather or some physical discomfort. It is strange, however, how fast these excuses disappear when a friend invites us one hour later for a celebration or a birthday party. Every year Joseph and Mary used to go to Jerusalem. In one way or another, Jesus also learned his religiosity from his parents.
- THE ADOLESCENT JESUS
The gospel shows us Jesus at the age of twelve. That was the age that every Jewish boy was expected to follow a traditional right that led him to be considered a responsible subject of the law. It was a ceremony of legal adulthood. From then on, the young man was required to keep the law and make the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem like any other Jewish man. From experience, we know that one way teenagers celebrate their coming of age is by going out and doing those things that the law had hitherto forbidden them to do. One can know one’s boy is growing up when he stops accounting for where he came from and begins to not tell you where he is going. As we can see, Jesus was no exception. To celebrate his coming of age, Luke tells us that Jesus attends the Temple Bible class without informing his parents. When his parents catch up with him after two days of searching for him everywhere, all he tells them is, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49). Even holy families do have their occasional tensions and misunderstandings.
It is quite interesting the way the story end: “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51). The twelve-year old adult Jesus already knows that his mission is to be in his Father’s house and be about his Father’s business. From the little experiment that he did in Jerusalem earlier that day, it was clear that he was already capable of doing the Father’s sill very well, because “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Lk 2:47). The puzzling question then is this: If Jesus, already at the age of twelve, was ready to begin his public mission, and was evidently well prepared for it, why would he go down with his parents and spend the next eighteen years in the obscurity of a carpenter’s shed only to begin his public ministry at the age of thirty? Were those eighteen years wasted years? Certainly not! In a way that is hard for us to understand, Jesus’ hidden life in Nazareth was as much a part of his earthly mission as his public life. We are reminded that it was at this time that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour” (Lk 2:52). And when we reflect on the fact that for every one year of his public life Jesus spent ten years in family life, then we shall begin to understand the importance and priority he gave to family life.
- THE HOLY FAMILY LIVED “TOGETHER” ALWAYS
“Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:48-51). After all this the Holy Family leaves Jerusalem and returns to Nazareth. There they live in peace and joy for many years before Jesus begins his public life. We are told: “The child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was in him.” (Lk 2:40) The Holy Family lived an ordinary life, doing their daily chores, and taking care of every single member of the household. As we can see from Scripture, the Holy Family of Nazareth was a “Father-Mother-Child” relationship. THEY WERE ALWAYS TOGETHER—at the nativity, at the presentation, at the flight to Egypt, at the search for the child in the temple, at the wedding feast of Cana, at the foot of the cross, in the Upper Room, etc. This becomes one of the marks a holy family. Togetherness is important for any family unit!
Some years ago social scientists discovered the term “dysfunctional” and began applying it to the family. The family is made of different parts: mother, father, children – and if one of the parts does not function correctly, it affects the well-being of the other parts. It throws them off and makes them to mal-function as well. Many families in our world today are said to be dysfunctional: The papa of the house is suffering from bad tamper; sometimes he gets violent; he drinks too much and terrorizes everyone. Mummy is very nervous and fearful; she shouts, and quarrels with everyone. In lots of cases, one of the parents is completely absent, and the remaining one has to try and do double duty, acting as father and mother for the family. This is the daily lot in some of our families today. Joseph and Mary were never absentee parents. Sometimes, children are left in a no-man’s land. The father simply disappears, thus helping to create the situation of single motherhood.
Generally, family persons have two lives, a private or family life and a public or professional one. These two lives should be in harmony but very often they are in tension. Whereas Jesus resolved the tension by giving priority to his private life, we, unfortunately, often try to resolve it by giving priority to our professional life, leaving our family life to suffer. One writer talks about the unhappy man who thought the only way he could prove his love for his family was to work hard. “To prove his love for her, he swam the deepest river, crossed the widest desert and climbed the highest mountain. She divorced him. He was never home.” The celebration today of the holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus reminds and challenges us to value and invest in our private life with our families before our professional life at the work place, even when our job is as important as saving the world.
Mary, Joseph and Jesus were a family much like any of our families today. They knew fear, loneliness, confusion, disagreement and disappointment. Sometimes, in our religious fervour, we may tend to spiritualize away the full and painful impact of the problems they faced by believing that they had direct access to solutions from heaven, through angels and dreams. The fact is that they stayed close TOGETHER; they were close to God; and God who spoke to them through the persons and events of their lives. Our families today have the same access to this same God. The God who led them out of crisis beckons us also, and is ready to lead us through life’s challenges. Let us turn to him following the footsteps of the Holy Family!