27 Dec The Holy Family
Father Stéphane Pouliot
December 27, 2015
If we were conscious when we left home for church today that we would celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, our first reaction might have been to be frustrated at how far from holy our own family is compared to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. That would be unfortunate, because saint Luke in today’s Gospel is quite clear that this is not what he is aiming to do or make us feel.
We know the story so well that we can easily caricature it and miss what saint Luke was trying to do in carefully choosing to emphasize the details foreshadowing Jesus’ mission as an adult.
First of all, Joseph, Mary and the young 12-year old Jesus are going up to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, the adult Jesus has only one destination, going up to Jerusalem for his final Passover on earth.
While in Jerusalem, the 12-year-old Jesus will be lost and then found in his Father’s house. 20 some years later, the adult Jesus will be lost to this world by dying on Good Friday, found alive by rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, and ascending to his Father, thereby going back to his “Father’s house”.
Even the questions the young 12-year-old Jesus asked the Temple’s teachers will foreshadow the questions the adult Jesus will ask the Pharisees, scribes and lawyers less than a generation later.
Upon returning to Nazareth, the 12-year-old Jesus will be a model of obedience to his earthly parents. 20 some years later, Jesus will obey his Heavenly Father to the point of death, and death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).
So, as you can see, there is more to this story than a teenage boy who escapes his parents’ supervision. What is also clear is that this story allows our families to relate to Jesus’ family in a way quite familiar to most of us.
Teenagers most of all know the experience of not feeling quite comfortable at home, as if they feel something beckoning them to go on a journey and find out for themselves who they really are.
Parents know the experience of watching their kids grow up and being caught off guard by the sudden growing up of their babies when they, like Jesus, decide to do a surprising thing and come up with a surprising answer to a legitimate parental question.
“Child, why have you treated us like this?” (Luke 2:48) says Mary in probably the most forward saying that she ever dared to speak to the Son of God.
“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:48) Jesus replies, leaving Mary to ponder for decades the full meaning of those words.
She had just said: “Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (Luke 2:48). Jesus reminds both his mother and foster father that He is from above (cf. John 8:23), and expresses surprise at their shock. Did they not know that his intimacy with His Father would lead him to want to linger in the Temple where He is worshipped?
Many of us have experienced that the desire to go home, as the return to Nazareth expresses for the holy family after what happened that day in the Temple, is never quite so strong as when you have been away from home, on a journey where a surprising decision has led you to proclaim who you are and led others to take stock of this revelation.
“We are reminded that it is only in giving each other the freedom to journey that we give each other the freedom to be home.”1
Last year, I discovered, during our family Christmas celebrations, that my need for deep conversations with a brother and a sister of mine, could not be guessed by them unless I expressed it out loud. I am very close in temperament with my youngest sister. We both need to have long chats about deep things. My brother and my oldest sister do not have that same need.
They are quite happy to attend a celebration where there will be no time for one-on-one deep chats, but lots of time to celebrate in the midst of mini-conversations where the joy of being together is all that matters. This year, I am going home to a family whom I accept as they are, and to whom I am willing to reveal who I am.
I am quite convinced that Mary and Joseph never forgot the moment they lost Jesus. I am also convinced that finding him again three days later led them to ask each other many times in the ensuing years: “Do you remember the time we went to Jerusalem with Jesus when he was 12?”
“There is real adult experience here: the recognition of the unique relationship that persons are called to have with God; the challenge to settle only in the “Father’s house”; the invitation to accompany each other along the way, sharing as best we can what this journey is all about. Jesus, Mary and Joseph have gone the road before us.”2
In the family celebrations of Christmas you have had this year, and whenever the next few days allow you to spend more time with your family, remember that the holiness of our families is perceivable most of all in the space we give each other to reveal ourselves and in the permission we give God to reveal Himself to us through our families, with them and in each every person we call family.
1 Corbin Eddy, “Who knows the Colour of God, Novalis, 2000, p.34.