The readings for Sunday, December 27, 2015, Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Cycle C, are
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; ; 1 John 3:1-2 21-24; and Luke 2:41-52.
The first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel are known as The Infancy Narrative. The narrative consists of a carefully constructed series of parallel stories about John the Baptizer and Jesus of Nazareth. There are parallel annunciations — one to Zechariah, father of John, the other to Mary the mother of Jesus. After the two annunciations, Luke brings together the two new mothers in the Visitation (the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Advent). Luke continues with parallel birth stories. Both birth stories are the occasion of great rejoicing over new life. God’s strange ways (Isaiah 55:8-9) are on display in the two mothers. One is an elderly woman who is beyond the age of child-bearing. The other is a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph, but not yet married to him. After these parallels, Luke develops stories about Jesus and his earthly parents. The last of these stories describes a Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Holy Family is part of a large group walking from Nazareth in the north of Palestine to Jerusalem in the south.
Luke often emphasizes that Jesus himself, his family, and others of his associates were faithful and devout Jews. And so he begins, “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.” This ancient feast of Spring carried on the traditions of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, passing over the Sea of Reeds or the Red Sea, and finding freedom in Palestine. To the Israelites the Passover was their freedom festival. A comparison: the independence Americans celebrate on July 4, although Passover had far more religious significance than does our Independence Day. The Holy Family was a small group (unless we include “the at least six brothers and sisters of Jesus” of Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-56?). But that story is for another Sunday Gospel. If a family was small, they would join another family to eat the Passover Lamb. It was a rule that each participant had to eat at least as much of the lamb as the size of an olive.
After the religious festivities were completed, the pilgrims from Nazareth, including Mary and Joseph began their trek northward to Galilee. Since they were part of a group of relatives and friends, they took it for granted that their twelve year old son was with the group, no doubt supposing that Jesus was “like hanging out” with other boys his age. Luke notes that Jesus was twelve years old at the time of this visit to Jerusalem. Jesus was not only the Son of God but also a human son with a complete human nature. And so he began to feel his independence as twelve year old children do in our time — sometimes with a note of rebellion, or sounding like rebellion. Parents are aware of such occasions among their own children. Night was approaching at the end of the first day’s journey — a time for families to gather and count heads. Oy Vey! No Jesus!
The concerned parents turned around and returned to Jerusalem. Desperately searching for their son for three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the scribes (scripture scholars), listening to them, asking them questions, “and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers”. Since Luke speaks of “his answers,” he implies that the scribes were also questioning Jesus, not only Jesus questioning them. If we see Luke’s Gospel as a symphony, (quite appropriate since he includes multiple hymns in his Infancy Narrative), we may see the Infancy Narrative as the prelude to the symphony. A composer may include various themes in a prelude, themes he or she will develop in the body of the symphony. The theme here is Jesus’ encounter with the religious authorities in Jerusalem — a major theme of Luke’s whole Gospel.
Another theme of Luke’s Gospel is the distancing between Jesus and his family. Luke already struck this theme in the words of Simeon to Mary at the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, “…and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” He returns now to the same theme, “And when they saw Jesus, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” Luke has already described Mary as “troubled” at her annunciation, and “pondering in her heart all these things,” he depicts happening at the birth of Jesus. On this occasion Mary is more than “troubled” and “pondering.” Her pain and distress come through clearly in the words Luke attributes to her. Every mother who worries about losing a child can relate to Mary’s distress. The “sword” of Simeon’s prophetic oracle is at work, distancing Jesus from his earthly family.
Jesus’ answer to his mother is mysterious. He has another family besides his earthly family, and that other family has priority, “How come you were looking for me? Did you not understand that I must be in the house of my Father?” Those who would be Jesus’ disciples, including Mary and Joseph, must understand the priority of the heavenly Parent. This too is a theme of the prelude to be developed later in the body of the Gospel. See Luke 14:26 for a very harsh development of this theme of God first. Mary and Joseph have much to learn about their unusual son, a son who is now beginning to show the independence of a child entering the teen years. Luke writes, “But they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.” Nevertheless, their son, who was himself the blueprint of their creation, submits to his earthly parents as he always submitted to his heavenly Parent, “And he went down with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. Luke again describes Mary’s dilemma, “But his mother kept all these things in her heart.” Once more Luke emphasizes the completeness of Jesus’ humanity, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and humanity.”
— Father Donald Dilger