The Holy Family


Commentary on Genesis 15:1-6;17:3b-5,15-16;21:1-7; Hebrews 11:8,11-12,17-19; Luke 2:41-52

IT IS CUSTOMARY to celebrate the feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday immediately following our celebrations on the birth of Jesus at Christmas. It is a time when we can reflect on the quality of our own family life in the light of the Church’s (if not the world’s) ‘First Family’.
For a large part of his life Jesus was part of a family. We always imagine that this must have been an extremely happy family. Yet, like every other family, it must have had from time to time its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its problems and difficulties.
There may have been problems about supplying the family’s needs on occasion. Surely someone fell sick at one time or another and was a source of anxiety for the rest of the family. And this was in an age when medical resources were few and relatively little was known about health and hygiene.
During Jesus’ public life, Mary appears a number of times and she witnessed his death on the cross. But we do not know anything about Joseph. Had he already died by the beginning of Jesus’ public life (although his name is mentioned during Jesus’ visit to Nazareth [Luke 4:22])? Given the short life expectancy of those days, it is very possible that, by the time Jesus was in his 30s, Joseph had already died. If so, it must have been a painful experience for mother and son. There is no reason to think that Holy Family was spared any of the pains or denied any of the joys of ordinary families.
Leaving the family
It must have been a painful time – as it can be for any family – when Jesus, already about 30 years old, left his family for the work his Father had given him to do. But warning of this had come much earlier, as described in today’s Gospel.
The family had gone to Jerusalem, according to their regular custom, to celebrate the Passover with thousands of other pilgrims. We are told that Jesus was just 12 years old, the age when he was regarded as entering adulthood and be required to observe all the requirements of the Mosaic Law. This partly explains his behaviour on this occasion.
As the caravan of pilgrims (very likely the people of Nazareth went together with relatives and neighbours) was on its way home, Mary and Joseph suddenly realise that the Jesus is not with them. Being in a group of neighbours and relatives they would not at first have experienced any alarm if he was not in their immediate company. If he was a normal boy, he would be spending much of his time with other boys in the group.
But then – perhaps he did not turn up for a meal or in the evening time – the parents began to become anxious. When they went looking for him, there was no sign anywhere among family members and friends. So they went back to Jerusalem “looking for him everywhere”. Only people who have lost a son or daughter or sibling in this way will be able to appreciate the anxiety such a situation would engender. What was worse, the city of Jerusalem was filled with strangers and anything could happen to a young boy on his own.
Finally, the parents went to the Temple and were amazed to find their boy calmly sitting with the religious teachers and discussing with them. And he was impressing them with his intelligence and the answers he was giving to their questions.
Mary, however, was not quite so appreciative. “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.” “Why were you looking for me?” Jesus replied. “Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?” What did he mean talking like that? Mary had mentioned Jesus’ ‘father’ but Jesus had spoken about ‘my Father’. They did not yet fully grasp what he was talking about.
They all then went back together to Nazareth where peaceful family life resumed as it had been. But this interlude was a presage of things to come. Their Son had a very special mission which went far beyond the life in Nazareth. Only later would the Mother understand. For now, she stored the memories in her heart.
From now on, Jesus would belong to a new family, the family of the world and especially of those who were committed to follow his Way. His mother, brothers and sisters would from now on be those who became his disciples, those who heard the Word of God and kept it. They would, of course, also include Mary his mother, for no one kept and heard God’s Word better than she.
Most people, in one way or another, leave their family environment. While the family must always have top priority in our concerns, it is not an absolute priority. All of us, and especially Christians, are called to follow the example of Jesus and align ourselves with the family of the world. For, with one Father, we are all brothers and sisters to each other and are called to care for each other. One of the problems with some modern families is that they see the surrounding society as being there simply to satisfy their wants and ambitions. It is this attitude which can put unbearable pressures on young people.
 

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