The Word in the Eucharist: Feast of the Holy Family
The story of how Jesus was found in the Temple is part of the celebration of the Holy Family.He had accompanied his parents on their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem when he became twelve. Luke thought important to add to his “sequence of events” the story of what happened in Jerusalem when Jesus went there for the Passover for te fist tme. Under the jewish law, every young man reaching twelve years had the obligation to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover. It was a four-day journey, back and forth, and the mechanics of the trip was open to certain confusion.
The first reading tells why the child Samuel, once he was weaned (and at that time, as in certain countries today, children were weaned quite late), was consecrated to the service of the Lord. But why should this story concern us today? We have become extremely sensitive about questions of personal liberty, even for a child. This is what some people argue concerning baptism, saying that one cannot decide for a child, that he or she will have to make his o her own decision later on. In any case, the practice of offering a little child as a religious oblation is no longer allowed. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a child is and will always be a gift of God: he or she does not really belong to his parents. And God’s plan for a child’s vocation surpasses any other. Moreover, the search for God must animate man’s whole life, conditioning all other choices.
We know that God is and will always be inaccesible, but his love has fulfilled our wildest hopes and dreams: he has admitted us into his own family, according to this Sunday’s second reading: “We are God’s children now”; we must wait for the appearance of the Son of God so that what we now are will become clearer. While this assertion remains in the level of faith, what follows necessarily is fidelity to the commandment given by Jesus: to recognize that he is the Son of Gd and to love one another. This fidelity, which we achieve with the help of grace, is the guarantee that we dwell in God and God in us.
Luke notes that Jesus was “filled with wisdom” from his infancy. But it is at the Temple that the 12-year-old Jesus manifests his wisdom and excites the admiration of those learned in the Law; and it will be at the Temple where he wlll start his teaching ministry. Now the legal scholars “are amazed at the intelligence and his answers”; later they will oppose him.
At first glance, the story of what happened to the Holy Family appears to be rather trivial. Thus taken, we can look at the story in several ways:
- the attitude of the parents of an unusual adolescent;
- the problem posed by such surprising conduct in a young boy, otherwise a model of submissiveness to his parents;
- the inevitable conflict of duties between obedience owed to parents versus the call of God, etc.
But the nature and clear intention of the Gospel is not to present a collage of historical events meant to move or edify, but to present a narrative of salvaton events in which the person and personality of Jesus are revealed. Mary and Joseph´s total lack of comprehension clearly point to the fact that the story has a profound meaning.
A child like any other, obedient to his parents, yet clearly possessing an incomparable wisdom, Jesus has a mysterious relation with the Father. The mystery of his person is only revealed, little by little, through his obedience to the will of God. The veil will not be completely lifted until Easter.
The attentive reader will notice that Jesus is found -reappears- on the third day after his absence, as it will be three days between his death and resurrection. The inability of Mary and Joseph to understand evokes that of the disciples, whom the resurrected Jesus reproaches by saying to them: “What little sense you have!…Did not the Messiah have to undergo all this?”
We must meditate on these texts used in the celebration of the Holy Family. They enlighten the progressive revelation of the mystery of Jesus and the meaning of his mission.
Mary and Joseph traveled this path to faith before us. Joseph is no longer mentioned afterwards. But is he not the model of the “upright man,” humbly submissive to the Word, faithful in carrrying out his role regarding Jesus? Mary will be mentioned only briefly and intermittently, although her place in the miracle at Cana of Galilee, her silent witness at the cross, and her presence on the day of Pentecost will not be ignored.
Beyond preaching about familial virtues, and about the relations that must exist in the Christian community, the feast of the Holy Family celebrates the Christ who reveals himself in the daily realities, becauze he is the Son of God, a man among us all.