It feels maybe a bit like whiplash to go from yesterday’s great celebration of Jesus’ nativity, but then today to find him 12 years old and worrying his parents. In some years, the scripture for today’s feast is much closer to the birth narratives. Last year, we read of the Presentation in the Temple, when Mary and Joseph bringing baby Jesus to the temple and meeting Anna and Simeon.
That’s not the scripture we get for this year. This year, we get to reflect on Luke’s hint to us that Jesus’ ministry will someday probably take him far afield from his biological family. We see hints here of the man who will one day describe his family not as his mother and brothers but as those who hear and act on God’s Word:
Then his mother and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”Luke 8:19-21
In today’s Gospel, Jesus does not quite make that extraordinary leap. Instead, in good twelve-year-old fashion he admonishes his parents for having worried (I think of my own tween moaning, “Oh Moooomm…” in a way that tells me I’m being over protective – even if I don’t think I am) and tells them, uh, of course, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Despite what seems to me a bit on par with the 21st century teenage eyeroll, for now Jesus somewhat keeps the status quo, for he leaves with Mary and Joseph and “was obedient to them” exactly in the way that Sirach tells children to be toward their parents in today’s Old Testament reading. Indeed, Sirach gives parents and children wisdom for interacting with each other, and Luke names specifically that Jesus grows in wisdom toward adulthood.
It appears that the incident sets Mary to thinking – maybe the temple incident even cracks open a few things for Mary, makes plain what she hadn’t quite realized before. Luke tells us that she “kept all these things in her heart.” What might that mean for Mary, Joseph (who doesn’t get much of a mention here) and for us? I suggest the following:
- There is a message for parents and all those people who are de facto parenting others. Mary and Joseph realize that parenthood is not going to look like the ideal – either in their time or ours. Parenthood is costly – not because it costs so much to raise a child as inane magazines still like to inform us – but because if our children are heeding God’s call, parents are likely to be watching their children walking the edge of a precipice. Discipleship is definitely not the tidy image of nuclear family that has so much of a hold in contemporary culture. While Jesus will follow the law and be obedient to his parents and respect his mother even as he goes to his death on the cross – he’s also going to flip their world inside out. Mary’s response is to continue to be a parent, supportive of her kid. I mean, Mary is there at the foot of the cross! If we contemporary parents are serious about raising our children in faith, we too must come to grips with the idea that our kids, as disciples, are probably not going to have lives that look like the ideal. They may someday not get married, not have the house and kids, not have the successful business, and so forth. And they might go on to do entirely unlooked for things and things that are hard for us to see and bear. Indeed, that’s exactly what happens to the Holy Family – and that’s exactly why it is possible for the Holy Family to be a strong and enduring image of faith for contemporary parents and children.
Today’s first reading gives us additional inklings that, in fact, following God will often mean we have lives that look quite different. In 1 Samuel we have the story of Hannah dedicating her only son Samuel at the temple of the Lord, in thanksgiving for God granting her the chance to have a baby. Once he is weaned, Samuel is raised by Eli, the priest of the Lord. Hannah’s breathtaking faith in God leads her to bring Samuel to be raised in the temple and to become a servant of the Lord, not unlike Mary’s own faith in bearing and raising Jesus. (By comparison – It is pretty much impossible for me to imagine dedicating my 2- or 3-year old to life in a temple, so I have a ways to go.)
- Mary begins to see that for the Son of God, family will not be limited to biological family – and thus there is a message here for all of us.
There is, first of all, the fact that both Jesus and Samuel are raised by adoptive fathers.
But also, discipleship will extend the family to being the whole family of Christ, all those who are God’s adopted children. Today’s epistle reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians describes how we, as members of the family of God, are to live toward all: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”
To be able do compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love…. Well, that requires that we pay attention to each moment, to the new encounters and surprises God might be throwing our way, each day. We cannot be compassionate if we still think of our eleven-year old children as 3-year olds, or if we ignore the random stranger we meet, or if we still think of our elderly parents as their young selves.
In other words, we must become more generously expansive in seeing others as children of God, just as we are. And we must treat them as such. Mary, Mother of God, has become all our Mother; we dare to name God as Father. We are asked to be people who live in God’s own family.
In 2021, people mused quite a bit on our polarized, divided nation, and our polarized Church caught up in culture wars. My prayer is that the Holy Family might be a beacon for all of us as we seek truly to be the family of God.